UVF attacks on prison officers add to tension

 

AN already heightened atmosphere in Northern Ireland has been exacerbated by UVF attacks on the homes of prison officers and a threat to murder a prison governor by the weekend. There has been nightly rioting in Lurgan, Co Armagh, since the two RUC officers were murdered.

The UVF warned yesterday that it would kill a senior governor if searches of loyalist prisoners' cells were not reduced. As a measure of their intent they attacked the homes of two prison officers in east Belfast early yesterday.

The UVF actions come as Northern Ireland remains braced for possible further IRA attacks and a loyalist paramilitary backlash. The Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, said the UVF threat merely added to community fears.

The UVF issued its threat in protest at daily cell searches and head counts at the Maze prison. Earlier this week about 90 UVF inmates refused to co-operate with the daily searches, introduced after the foiled IRA tunnel escape attempt. They said they would accept weekly searches.

After visits were cancelled, the UVF attacked the homes of the officers.

One of the officers said his family could have been burned to death but for their fire alarm. They were forced to flee after petrol was poured through the letter-box and set alight. Two of the officers' teenage daughters had to escape through a skylight, while his wife and elder daughter were rescued by firemen.

They were treated in hospital for smoke inhalation. Saying he would not be forced from his home, the officer challenged those responsible: "They know who I am. If they want me, come and get me, not my children, not my wife."

The same UVF gang is believed to be responsible for the attack on a second officer's home. He and his family managed to put out the fire before it could take hold.

Mr Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association in the North, condemned the death threat and the attacks. Prison officers should not be targeted, he said. They simply carried out prison policy.

Dr Eames told BBC Radio Ulster that the IRA killings and UVF attacks were raising community tensions further.

He agreed that dialogue was the way forward "but the conditions must exist to make talking worthwhile".

Mr David Ervine, spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party which is linked to the UVF, said he "abhorred" the threat and attacks but would not condemn them. He said he and his party would do everything in their power to try to ensure the threats were not carried out.

Mr Seamus Close, deputy leader of the Alliance Party, challenged Mr Ervine and other loyalist politicians to condemn such acts of violence and to dissociate themselves from paramilitary groupings.

Carmel Robinson adds:

Rioting has continued for two nights in Lurgan.

The RUC discovered 50 petrol bombs in the nationalist Kilwilkee estate yesterday morning. The disturbances began on Monday afternoon when the RUC went into the estate to conduct house-to-house searches after the murders. However, officers came under a barrage of stones and bottles. Tension in the town has been extremely high since the killings.