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20 February 1997 Edition

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British curfew: community punishment

Crown Forces in organised destruction and attacks against Lurgan nationalists

``They told us they would teach us a lesson and they certainly tried to,'' was the view of Sinn Fein's Upper Bann representative Bernadette O'Hagan when she spoke to An Phoblacht about the virtual curfew imposed by British crown forces on Lurgan's nationalist Kilwilkie estate for most of last week.

The curfew began at about 4.30am last Tuesday morning 11 February 1997 when over 1,000 RUC, RIR and British Army personnel moved in and sealed the area off. At one point over 25 RUC and British army jeeps were sitting in the car park of the local community centre at Lurgantarry which they seemed to be using as a staging post. In the saturation operation the gardens and backs as well as outhouses in the 400 house estate were searched.

Jeeps sat on the corner of almost every street and the checkpoints, set up on all routes to and from the estate, were flashpoint areas as Crown Forces harassed and abused locals constantly.

This state of siege was to last until around tea time on Thursday evening. The RUC attempted to justify their anti-nationalist operation saying they had been attacked in the area. A rocket had been launched against an RUC patrol on Thursday 6 February and during the massive search a rifle, pistols and a rocket launcher were found. However none of this was found in any of the 12 houses raided, two of which were badly damaged. One is said to be no longer inhabitable. Of the six people arrested none was charged. All have made complaints about their treatment while in Gough barracks.

Of the houses raided, that of a young woman who was one of those arrested had walls dug out and holes dug in the floor. According to neighbours we spoke to, the woman has been so badly affected by the experience that she has not returned to her home and has been getting constant medical attention from her doctor. She did not want to be interviewed.

Malachy Toman, the brother of Volunteer Eugene Toman, who was killed in an RUC shoot-to-kill operation in 1982, also had his home raided.

Toman left home to bury his father Edward who died on Sunday morning; as he was going to the funeral the RUC were sledge-hammering their way through his front door and invading his home. When Toman arrived home after the funeral and complained about the raid he was informed by the RUC, ``we can do what we want''.

Also raided was the home of Marie Toman where the Crown Forces tore off the door to her fridge and ripped kitchen drawers apart. Ms Toman's two sons Barry and Colm were arrested.

Linked to Portadown by the `new city' of Craigavon, Lurgan is a medium sized town in North Armagh with a population of about 25,000. It sits on the edge of what was known, in the mid-1970s, as the murder triangle. Not much has changed.

It was in Portadown where Catholic Michael McGoldrick was shot dead by the UVF last summer at the height of the Drumcree crisis although Lurgan has seen its fair share of sectarian killings carried out mostly by the mid-Ulster Brigade of the UVF.

Travelling to Lurgan this week we spoke to some local people who were on the receiving end of the Crown Forces harassment - the underlying mood was that of a community being punished and deliberately so but determined nonetheless not to be bowed.

Young Barry Toman (18) was lifted from his home for the second time in two weeks. First arrested two weeks ago, Toman was brought to Gough barracks where RUC Special Branch tried to recruit him as an informer. They named some local republicans who they wanted Barry to watch. Released after a day and a half Toman went to Sinn Féin who advised him to see a solicitor and register a complaint.

The story did not end there, however. On Monday last, 10 February, Barry was in Lurgan town centre with some friends when three RUC Special Branch tried to pull him into a white Toyota car.

``I got separated from my friends at the Northern Bank and that's when they moved. I heard a car door closing, turned and saw a Branchman walking towards me. I walked away but they drove the car past me and pulled in in front of me and the one behind me tried to push me into the car, but I pushed him off and ran off. They followed me and tried to get me at the Post Office but I got away''.

When his family home was raided the next day Barry and his brother Colm were both taken away and held for four days. Again the Branch raised the question of informing with the young man but not as convincingly as the first time. It seems they knew they were wasting their time.

Barry's father Colie told us that his wife Marie was ``very distressed at the arrests and worried because the RUC were targeting Barry. It's a disgrace that they (RUC) can get away with what they did here last week. We didn't hear too many churchmen or politicians standing up for our rights'', he concluded.

Barry Toman has since lost a job he was going for because of his detention by the RUC.

Paul Gillespie was set upon by an RIR man last Thursday 13 as he walked along Deeney Drive on his way to his mother-in-law's house when he was stopped by two British soldiers (500 extra British troops were brought in especially for the Lurgan operation). As the British soldiers were asking Gillespie for his details and were about to search him, ``an RIR man came from nowhere and told me to open my coat or he'd take it off me. I was complying with the search and he ordered me to empty my pockets. I put my hands in to take out my keys and money when he headbutted me''.

Gillespie said the RIR man was wearing a helmet and when he tried to hit him again he grabbed him in an effort to defend himself. ``Then one of the Brits kicked me on the back of the knee and I went down, pulling the RIR man with me''.

During the attack the 34 year old father of two was punched on the face and kicked. He was taken under military arrest to Lurgan RUC barracks. He was later released without charge.

``A Brit who was in charge stopped the assault but a crowd had gathered and he was afraid the situation would get out of hand,'' Gillespie said.

It was the role of the sectarian RIR that holds the most sinister dimension to last week's raids as they threatened nationalists and warned they would give their details to loyalist gangs.

Collie Duffy, who was released on appeal in September last year after being wrongly convicted of killing an RIR man, was stopped by the RIR and warned, ``the next time you see me I'll be wearing a woolly [a mask]''.

Last Saturday week a taxi driver who has spoken to An Phoblacht before about a campaign of harassment against him by the RIR, was stopped and held for over an hour before the RIR then brought him to the British army search bay at Long Kesh.

It was 5 o'clock on Sunday morning before the man, who wishes to remain anonymous, was released. Then on Monday he was again held, this time in William Street, Lurgan. His car was again searched and the man made to stand in a snow shower for up to an hour. ``It's the same faces all the time and I'm worried about it. One of them told me that, `one night the `right' man would get in the back of my taxi,'' he said.

Dwyer Campbell, who was abducted by the RIR on 30 November 1996 and taken to a secluded spot on the banks of Lough Neagh where he was threatened with death (see An Phoblacht 5.December.96) again came in for some RIR treatment. He lost a tooth when an RIR man headbutted him in the mouth.

``It is clear the crown forces were intent on punishing this community'', said Sinn Féin's Bernadete O'Hagan. ``Despite their threats to teach us a leeson it is they who need to learn, nationalists in the Six Counties are off their knees and we're not going back''.

An Phoblacht
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