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22 April 1999 Edition

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SDLP support Gurkha Band in Omagh

A decision by Omagh District Council to provide the town's leisure centre for a promotional concert involving the British army Gurkha Band has caused outrage among nationalists. The Gurkha battalions are among the most notorious in the history of the British army's imperialist wars around the world and have left a legacy of mercenary murder in various countries, particularly India.

While Gurkhas have not served in the Six Counties, they often have taken the place of other British army units who were sent there. What is particularly distressing about the decision to many people is the support given to the idea by SDLP members of Omagh Council.

The proposal first came to light at a meeting of a Council subcommittee, where council officers who had earlier been informed by members of the Royal Irish Regiment that the Gurkha Band would be available, sought to pursue the issue quietly and send an invitation. When the facts came to light at the full Council meeting on Wedneday, 14 April, the idea was strongly opposed by Sinn Féin.

A motion to prevent the Gurkhas playing in Omagh leisure centre was proposed by Councillor Mickey McAnespie, who said that the proposal would be ``strongly opposed by the majority of the people of the Omagh District, who want to see British soldiers leave this country, not come here in bigger numbers''. His proposal was seconded by Sinn Féin Councillor Kevin McGrade. McAnespie said: ``The Gurkhas, it must be said, have a particularly murderous track record and our party will not give them the red carpet treatment.''

In the event however the proposal was carried with the support of the Ulster Unionists, the DUP and SDLP Councillors.

Following the decision the Chairperson of Omagh District Council, Seán Clarke, said he was extremely disappointed: ``As an Irish nationalist and a republican I would ask those councillors who descibe themselves as nationalists but who actively opposed Sinn Féin's objection to the Gurkhas if they have any national pride in them at all.

``I am specifically referring to those SDLP Councillors who portray themselves at election time as strong nationalists but who, in between elections, throw a lifeline of support to the RUC at the local Patten Commission hearing and who are prepared to welcome the British army Gurkha Band to this part of Ireland.

``The British army Gurkha Band is not welcome in Omagh District as far as the vast majority of local people are concerned. Look at the history of the British army in Ireland. Look at the savage history of the Gurkhas in British colonies the world over.

``It is well documented how the Gurkhas massacred people by the thousand throughout India; how Britain has deployed them against freedom movements in Malaya and Brunei. It is well known that they pride themselves in exhibiting the body parts of those they murder as some type of trophy.''
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