Death threats heighten fears of loyalist feuds

 

THE dangers of a deadly rift within loyalism intensified as the RUC warned leading loyalists in south Belfast that they are under death threat from dissident elements of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in mid Ulster.

The warnings were issued as Mr Billy Hutchinson, a senior member of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which is linked to the mainstream UVF, said he understood the death threat against Mr Billy Wright still remained.

Police sources confirmed that prominent loyalists in south Belfast, one of whom is understood to be a member of the UDA leadership, have been told their lives are in danger from maverick UVF elements in mid Ulster.

Mr Joe English, of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), which is linked to the UDA, said all threats put pressure on the stability of Northern Ireland and had to be taken seriously.

The death threats against Mr Wright and the mainstream Belfast loyalists have heightened fears of a feud within loyalist paramilitaries.

Such a power struggle could force the collapse of the loyalist ceasefire called in October 1994 by the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC).

Last night, there was still no sign of any compromise between the opposing factions. Mr Wright, dubbed "King Rat" was bolstered by a large attendance at a rally in his support at Portadown on Wednesday night. Mr Hutchinson said that, despite the numbers at the rally, and the supporting presence there of the Rev William McCrea, of the DUP, his understanding was that it would not have a bearing on the attitude of the CLMC.

"It does not matter one iota to the CLMC. What matters to them is that he does not have the support of the people who have got the guns, and that's what matters most to them," Mr Hutchinson told BBC television.

He also suggested Mr Wright was seeking to become the leading figure in loyalism.

"Mr Wright will not ever, ever become the leader of loyalism because he has done it too much damage for anyone ever to accept him," Mr Hutchinson added.