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1 May 1997 Edition

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Jail tension as loyalists riot

THE UDA HAS ISSUED A DEATH THREAT against prison warders as the tension in the H Blocks mounts following news that the British government inquiry into last month's IRA escape attempt from the jail is set to recommend a ``punitive'' regime.

UDA prisoners in H Blocks 1 and 2 went on the roofs of the Blocks and burned observation huts on Tuesday but decided to end the protest on Wednesday.

And republican POWs have reacted to comments made by the head of prisons, Alan Shannon, who said that the ``prison authorities would adopt a measured approach and would not be rushing in [to loyalist blocks] with shields and batons''.

In a statement to An Phoblacht the POWs pointed out that that is precisely what the prison authorities did after the discovery of a tunnel in H7 on 23 March. After the tunnel was uncovered and republican prisoners locked up the riot squads came in and assaulted 66 prisoners ``who were forcibly stripped by control and restraint teams kitted out in riot gear, including shields and batons''.

Commenting on the new regime implemented on 29 April, the prisoners said, ``republican prisoners will pursue our difficulties with aspects of this regime through our own channels and our own means''.

A spokesperson for the Sinn Fein POW department, Michael Browne, said that while the department has yet to see the report ``the indications are that the NIO are set to recommend a punitive regime. If these recommendations are implemented and take away prisoners rights then the situation in the jail can only get worse''.

However, Browne added, ``we have not been able to consult with the prisoners spokespersons yet but the POWs' view is that they will do nothing to add to the existing tension''.

Meanwhile, UDP-organised protests at the car park at Long Kesh have added to the worries of families of republican prisoners. During a protest on Tuesday 29 April republican relatives leaving the visiting area had to walk a gauntlet of loyalists protesters who hurled a torrent of verbal abuse at them. One woman was tripped and fell to the ground.

Michael Browne said, ``prisoners' families are innocent parties in all this. We would call on the UDP to ensure that the safety and welfare of the families of republican POWs be assured and that they can visit the prison without fear of abuse''.

Browne was also critical of the NIO response to the situation on Tuesday, ``the NIO told us that the jail car park was a public place that they were not responsible for and that the RUC was doing a good job `policing' the protest. The RUC stood by and did nothing''.

A second loyalist protest at the prison on Wednesday 30 passed off peacefully.
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