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BBC NI chief security correspondent, Brian Rowan
The UFF statement says the organisation will break the ceasefire - not end it.
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Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
UFF issues shooting threat
UFF mural
Ulster Freedom Fighters said their hand had been forced
The largest loyalist paramilitary organisation has threatened it will reserve the right to shoot any person seen to be attacking Protestant homes in north and west Belfast.

The Ulster Freedom Fighters issued a statement saying it would carry out actions from midnight on Tuesday in defence of the "beleaguered Protestant community".

The warning was delivered by hooded and armed UFF men at a secret location in the loyalist Shankill Road area of west Belfast.

A man wearing a balaclava, with a handgun on a table in front of him delivered the statement, flanked by three men, their faces covered by balaclavas and each holding an automatic weapon.

The organisation said its "hand was being forced" because of a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against Protestants.

The statement issued by the so-called second battalion of the west Belfast brigade said various interface areas had endured "a systematic or orchestrated campaign of intimidation from nationalists" since the ceasefires.

"From 12 o'clock tonight, 20 June 2000, the UFF reserves the right to shoot any person seen to be attacking Protestant homes," it said.

"This will be in direct contradiction to our ceasefire, which we have steadfastly adhered to despite intense provocation, but enough is enough."

It continued: "We cannot stand idly by and watch while Protestants are intimidated out of their homes."

'Mistake to break ceasefire'

The UFF called on nationalists from the areas, be they Sinn Fein, Social Democratic and Labour Party or community leaders, to "put a stop to this ethnic cleansing campaign before our hand is forced".

UDP leader Gary McMichael:
Gary McMichael: "Worrying development"
The statement mentioned areas in west and north Belfast such as Oldpark Road, Limestone Avenue, Alliance Avenue and Lanark Way and said pensioners were suffering most.

The statement was described as "very worrying development and a mistake" by Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party which has links with the UFF.

"While I understand the concerns and frustration that have been building because of anti-Protestant intimidation in some interface areas I feel that this course of action would be a major mistake.

"I call on the RUC to step in to protect areas where there are recurrent nationalist attacks so that the problems is brought under control.

"I also call on the leadership of the UDA/UFF to clarify its position on the status of its 1994 cease-fire," he said.

The UDP's John White said the party had been receiving increasing numbers of complaints about the intimidation of Protestants in interface areas.

"This is a response to it - certainly it is an extreme response to it," he said.

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin:
Mitchel McLaughlin: "Attempt to heighten tensions"
Sinn Fein said the threat from the UFF was a matter of "grave concern" and called on nationalists to be vigilant over the coming weeks.

Party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin claimed the threats were part of a campaign "to force nationalists to accede to Orange Order demands to march through nationalist areas".

He said it was also "part of a wider internal loyalist battle over territorial control".

Mr McLaughlin said the UFF statement was also "an attempt to heighten tensions in interface areas in the lead-up to the marching season".

'Tensions no worse than before'

SDLP West Belfast assembly member Alex Attwood condemned the UFF statement as "a cynical attempt to raise tensions" during the marching season.

The SDLP's Alex Attwood
Alex Attwood: "No justification for breaking ceasefire"
Mr Atwood said: "There is no justification whatsoever for any organisation breaking any ceasefire on any pretext and that is the wish of the people of the North and of north and west Belfast."

He said there were always tensions in north and west Belfast, and they were always worse around the marching season but he insisted: "They are no worse this year than they have been in previous years."

The Royal Ulster Constabulary said that it was not their responsibility to make any statement on the state of the UFF ceasefire.

A spokesman said: "Our interest is in protecting people against crime and in bringing those involved in crime before the courts.

"However the police in common with all law abiding people in Northern Ireland would be concerned at any threat of violence from any quarter."

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