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18 September 1997 Edition

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`Be extremely vigilant' warning to South Down nationalists

Loughinisland and Morgan killers targetting nationalists



By Laura Friel

Current Loyalist paramilitary activity in the South Down area has been described as a ``grim repetition'' of activity which preceeded the brutal sectarian murder of 16-year-old James Morgan six weeks ago. Sinn Fein Councillor Frank McDowell is urging nationalists to remain extremely vigilant.

``Known loyalist activists have been spotted repeatedly driving through nationalist areas in Downpatrick and Castlewellan and they have been detected following individual nationalists,'' McDowell said. ``The sinister implication is that the murder gang which was involved in the vicious slaying of James Morgan is still effectivey intact and intent upon killing again.''

According to Sinn Fein, the loyalist squad is currently travelling in two teams, driving a white Vauxhall Cavalier and a red Ford Sierra. In a recent incident a well known local republican narrowly escaped injury when a convoy of cars driven by loyalists attempted to ram him off the road.

James Morgan was abducted on 24 July coming from the seaside resort of Newcastle. His badly mutilated body was discovered three days later, dumped in a water filled pit at Clough. The killing followed an unsuccessful abduction attempt by two men travelling in a white car described as similar to the vehicle subsequently recovered after the Morgan murder.

Members of two well known loyalist families are believed to have participated in the killing. The same gang is believed to have carried out the Loughinisland massacre and murder of Dundrum businessman Jack Kielty. The gang may well now be operating under the LVF flag of convenience.

``Despite a number of known loyalist parmilitaries from the greater Newcaslte area being questioned,'' McDowell said, ``only one man, Norman Coopey, has been charged with the murder of James Morgan. The LVF, clearly influenced by the reluctance of the RUC to apprehend any other alleged participants, continues to prey upon the nationalist community of South Down.''

Following the Morgan murder, residents in Clough, a small Protestant town on the main Newcastle/Belfast/Downpatrick road, were threatened after they attempted to remove sectarian graffitti as a concilitary gesture to their Catholic neighbours. Council workers were intimidated and the slogan ``We know where you are.'' signed LVF, appeared on an adjacent wall overnight.

Last week a suspected loyalist weapons cache was found in the Maghera area just outside Newcastle. A rifle, handgun and ammunition was discovered in the basement of a private house. Despite attempts by the RUC to cover up both the find and history of the arms, the weapons are believed to have originated from the nearby British army/RIR Ballykilnar base.

``The discovery once again highlights collusion between British forces and the loyalist killer gangs,'' said Sinn Fein talks delegate Mick Murphy. ``The RUC has refused to make any comment or release information on the find. I am asking for a report on the history of these weapons. People want to know if they have been used in previous attacks and murders.''

The current upsurge in loyalist activity in South Down comes against a backdrop of increased RUC and British army patrols and vehicle checkpoints. There has been a long history of collusion between British forces and loyalist death squads, including the handing over of personal details of nationalists, the directing of loyalist murder gang activities and the provision of weapons. Loyalist attacks have often been preceded by a heightened British force presence.
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