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29 July 1999 Edition

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Congress cuts FBI links with RUC

By Pádraig MacDabhaid

     
This Bill puts our money where our mouth is by blocking U.S. funds to RUC programmes and requiring the President and the State Department to closely monitor the harassment of defence attorneys. - Congressman Chris Smith
THE United States Congress has halted an FBI training programme for the RUC because of concerns about civil rights abuses by the RUC and its collusion with loyalist death squads.

The move by the United States House of Representatives to cut off funding for joint activities between the FBI and the RUC has dealt a major blow to the international standing of the discredited Six-County paramilitary police force.

The ruling, made late on Wednesday 21 July, will undermine any attempts by the British government to portray the RUC as a legitimate and acceptable policing body. It has given added weight to calls by human rights groups for the RUC not to be involved in the investigations into the separate killings of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

The decision, made as the Patten Commission into the RUC considers its evidence, will ensure that the RUC does not escape censure, will further ostracise the RUC internationally, and vindicates republican claims that the RUC is not acceptable to the nationalist people of the Six Counties.

In a move initiated by Congressmen Robert Menendez and Steven Rothman and taken up by Congressmen Chris Smith and Peter King, the lawmakers linked the removal of funding to RUC harassment and involvement in the killings of human rights solicitors.

New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on International Operations and Human Rights, said:

``This Bill puts our money where our mouth is by blocking U.S. funds to RUC programmes and requiring the President and the State Department to closely monitor the harassment of defence attorneys. When these human rights issues are rightly addressed, then the monetary assistance resumes.''

Smith also called on Tony Blair's government to ``pull the RUC off the Rosemary Nelson murder case, to take decisive action to protect defence attorneys, and initiate an objective, public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane''.

The U.S. human rights spokesperson added:

``To do any less ignores the need for a just peace.''

This latest move follows hearings by the influential House International Relations Committee (IRC) on 22 April 1999 on the urgent need for new and acceptable policing in the Six Counties.

In Belfast, on 8 July., House IRC Chairperson Ben Gilman, joined by a senior bipartisan congressional delegation, released a letter co-signed by Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to Chris Patten's policing commission. The letter urged the setting up of a police service ``that will be the pride of all its people and will protect the human rights and civil rights of each and every citizen. There is nothing more important for a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland than a new, acceptable, and fair police service.''

The Rosemary Nelson Campaign has welcomed this latest demonstration of political support for human rights from America. Spokesperson Ellen Weaver said:

``For the first time in recent history, a person [Rosemary Nelson] has testified to the U.S. Congress that their life has been threatened and seven months later has been murdered. This move by the US House of Representatives unanimously and resoundingly backs the call for a fully independent international investigation.''

Congressman Smith underlined the futility of allowing a politically-motivated. paramilitary state force to investigate a state-sponsored murder carried out by state-controlled murder squads:

``It is preposterous that the RUC, an organisation that threatened the life of Rosemary Nelson, would be involved in any capacity in an investigation into her murder. On 29 September 1998, Nelson, a defence attorney from Northern Ireland, testified before my sub-committee that, as a defence attorney working on a number of high-profile, political cases, she feared the RUC. She reported that she had been `physically assaulted by a number of RUC officers' and that the harassment included, `at the most serious, making threats against my personal safety including death threats'.''

The new legislation will now be the subject of further deliberations before it is passed to U.S. President Bill Clinton for his signature.

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