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16 September 1999 Edition

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Orange Volunteers threaten

Loyalist paramilitary group the Orange Volunteers is threatening to launch a ``winter campaign'' if Sinn Féin is allowed into the Executive.

In a statement last week to Ulster Television, the group said it had recently restructured and was ready to restart its attacks.

And in a very worrying development, reports say that the group, which is allied to the Red Hand Defenders, is thought to have received arms from the Ulster Resistance Movement. If true, this could herald a bloodier campaign from the groups which up until now have not had access to modern weaponry and has been using crude devices.

These crude devices, however, have left two people dead, the most recent being Portadown grandmother Elizabeth O'Neill, who died when a bomb was thrown into her home in the town's Corcrain estate in June.

It is understood the Orange Volunteers have been recruiting since June. It has reportedly set up new brigades in rural areas such as Fermanagh, outside its usual areas of strength in County Down and Antrim, where the group has strengthened its units. The new recruits comprise mainly of dissident UVF members.

Sinn Féin assembly member for Upper Bann Dara O'Hagan, where the Orange Volunteers and Red Hand Defenders have been most active, has called on nationalists to be vigilant. ``We are facing into a period of intense political activity,'' she said, ``and people should be aware that in the past loyalist violence has filled the political vacuums created by unionist stalling.''
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