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17 July 1997 Edition

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RUC run amok in Strabane

At 2am on Saturday morning, local people were putting the finishing touches to Ballycolman Estate's first-ever Community Festival. Suddenly, they were confronted by a number of people wearing black clothing and balaclava helmets, carrying rifles and submachineguns. They shouted ``Provo IRA! Get in your house to f...'' No one knew who they were.

Then around ten Land Rovers came into the estate, and their occupants ran through ordering people into their houses. One woman, Mrs Boyle, had a submachinegun shoved under her chin by a female RUC member, who said, ``Get into the house you Fenian B...or you'll be shot.'' A male RUC member shouted, ``Any Fenian B... will do''.

Uniformed RUC then appeared on the scene and fired flares. Next a helicopter arrived and hovered low over the estate for 20 minutes. Over 100 angry people were out on the streets by 2:30am, many thinking they had been invaded by the SAS. Others thought it was an attempt to wreck the Festival.

Sinn Féin Councillor Ivan Barr was one of the first on the scene. When he protested to the RUC Barracks at Bowling Green, RUC Inspector Kennedy told him that it had not been an undercover operation, that it involved the RUC exclusively and that the balaclavas and black clothing were the RUC's new-issue riot gear. He said they were there because of reports of an ``illegal checkpoint in the estate'' - an event no local resident witnessed.

Meanwhile, after complaints were made, the Festival went on the next day and was a tremendous success. At 6pm on Sunday, at exactly the same site where the RUC appeared, two RUC and two British Army Land Rovers arrived. Crown Forces leapt up from their vehicles, pulled down bunting, broke a support pole and demolished part of a garden fence. Three women were injured.

Sinn Féin led a protest of some 400 residents that night to the RUC Barracks at Bowling Green.

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An Phoblacht
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