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Blair orders probe of 1972 N. Ireland massacre

Protestant gang vows to stop killing 'ordinary Catholics'

In this story: January 29, 1998
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EDT (1513 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- Citing new evidence in Northern Ireland's Bloody Sunday massacre, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a new investigation Thursday "to establish the truth."

The fatal shootings of 13 Roman Catholic men and teen-agers at the end of a protest march in Londonderry on January, 30, 1972, was a watershed in the sectarian Northern Ireland conflict -- one that radicalized hundreds of Catholic youths to move from street protests into the ranks of the Irish Republican Army. A 14th marcher died later.

Also Thursday, a renegade pro-British Protestant militia responsible for recently murdering several Catholics in Northern Ireland announced it would no longer attack the "ordinary Catholic community."

The Loyalist Volunteer Force, in a coded statement sent to local news media, said its random attacks will cease five minutes before midnight GMT, but made clear there would be no end to the killing of people it deems legitimate targets.

Three judges in charge of probe

Blair
Blair orders new probe of Bloody Sunday   
icon 221K/19 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Blair, speaking to Parliament on the eve of the massacre's 26th anniversary, said the Bloody Sunday probe was "not to accuse individuals or institutions or invite fresh recriminations, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day, so far as that can be achieved at 26 years' distance."

"Bloody Sunday was a tragic day for all concerned," Blair said. "We must all wish it had never happened. Our concern now is simply to establish the truth and close this painful chapter once and for all," he told the House of Commons."

In the Commons, Protestant political leaders immediately complained that the new inquiry would reopen old wounds and do more harm than good.

The inquiry will be carried out by an international panel of three senior judges led by Britain's Lord Saville. Blair said the other two members likely would be from the British Commonwealth, the 54-nation association that includes Britain and its former colonies.

Blair's Labor Party government, which came to power last May, had been expected to order the inquiry in an effort to build confidence and trust during negotiations on the future of Britain's province, Northern Ireland.

The panel expects to hold public hearings in Britain and Northern Ireland. The tribunal could grant immunity from prosecution to some of the people who testify.

The judges' conclusions will be given to Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam.

"Our intention is that they will be made public," Blair said.

Relatives of the victims watched Blair from the visitors' section of the Commons.

"My heart lifted, I thought at last a member of the British establishment, a prime minister, understands why Bloody Sunday is so important," Angela Heggarty, spokeswoman for the group, said afterward.

Blair offers no apologies

Catholic activists have compiled a catalog of witnesses' oral testimony, backed up by audio and film records, which indicates that not only British paratroopers who confronted the protest march were involved in the shootings in the Catholic Bogside district.

They contend that army snipers on Londonderry's walls overlooking the district killed three protesters.

The marchers were demonstrating against Britain's policy at the time of imprisoning IRA suspects without a trial. No soldiers were injured in the melee.

England's most senior judge of the day, Lord Widgery, concluded in 1972 that some of the soldiers' shooting "bordered on the reckless."

He also said members of the IRA, a Catholic militant group, shot at soldiers first and that some of those killed may have been handling guns or explosives.

Blair made no apology for the events of Bloody Sunday, but said Widgery did not have time to consider all the evidence that might have been available.

Protestant gang promises partial cease-fire

In its statement on a cease-fire, the Loyalist Volunteer Force said it would "carry on its campaign against the Republic of Ireland until it drops its constitutional claim over Northern Ireland."

"We will also carry on our campaign against known Republicans and factions which are still engaged in attacks."

The LVF, which opposed cease-fires called by two larger pro-British Protestant paramilitary groups, launched a series of attacks on Catholics after an IRA splinter group killed its leader in jail December 27.

Since then eight Catholic civilians have been slain.

On Monday, representatives of one of the larger Protestant paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defense Association, which had admitted taking part in the three of the killings, were ejected from the Northern Ireland peace talks.

 
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