Wednesday, February 3, 1999 Published at 13:43 GMT
Amnesty to probe punishment beatings
Victim: Andrew Peden lost his legs in a so-called punishment beating
Human rights group Amnesty International is sending a mission to Northern Ireland to investigate so-called paramilitary punishment beatings.
The team, which will not include any UK citizens, will investigate the on-going beatings carried out by both republican and loyalist groups that are threatening to disrupt the peace process.
The attacks have sometimes led to the victims losing limbs or other serious injuries, and the RUC says that the attacks are being carried out by paramilitaries on both sides of the sectarian divide.
But while unionists have accused Republicans of failing to act over beatings carried out by the IRA, Sinn Fein has welcomed the Amnesty International move, saying that all abuses including those carried out by the RUC must be investigated.
Speaking to the BBC, Jill Heiney of Amnesty International said that the organisation had been surprised by Mr Trimble's request.
"We had received no response from David Trimble until this letter."
Ms Heiney said that Amnesty has monitored Northern Ireland on a regular basis, and it had concerns not just over punishment beatings but also the use of plastic bullets by the police, and the restrictions to access to lawyers under emergency anti-terrorism provisions.
Mr Trimble, who held talks with Mr Blair on Wednesday, said he believed that Amnesty International's presence could end "kneecappings" for good.
In his letter to the organisation, Mr Trimble wrote: "These human rights abuses would rightly be denounced if they were happening in Africa and South America. They should not be tolerated in the United Kingdom."
Under the current timetable, the Northern Ireland Assembly's executive is scheduled to begin work in March but unionists are refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein unless the IRA begins decommissioning of weapons.
Conservative leader William Hague has already called for a halt to paramilitary prisoner releases while the violence continues. Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected the call, saying that it could destroy attempts to implement last year's political agreement.
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Blair said: "The best way that we can push the process forward is for all aspects of the agreement to be implemented.
"We have made enormous progress and I hope both sides of the House can work to make more."