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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 06:37 GMT 07:37 UK
History of the loyalist feud
Public show of strength revealed power struggle in Belfast
BBC NI chief security correspondent Brian Rowan looks back at the roots of the loyalist feud which has escalated in Northern Ireland.

"This can't be allowed to develop into a last-man-standing situation."

The words were spoken by a prominent loyalist figure on Belfast's Shankill Road.

And there is a feeling that eventually and inevitably the loyalists will have to talk their way out of their current troubles rather than fight it out.

But with Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) guns being fired there is nothing yet to suggest a mood for mediation.

A senior police officer described the Shankill Road as "dodge city" as on Monday of this week the loyalist feud escalated.

The UVF, responding to weekend UFF attacks, shot dead two men and opened fire on an office of the loyalist Ulster Democratic Party.

UVF mural: Marking out turf
The UFF retaliated by attacking the office of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is aligned to the UVF and since then has targetted the homes of members of the PUP.

There will be two funerals on the Shankill Road before the week is over and the tension in this loyalist heartland can be felt and tasted.

A senior UFF figure described the situation as "dire".

Roots of feud

How things have changed since 1994 when the loyalist ceasefire was announced.

Then, there was a Combined Loyalist Military Command embracing the UVF and the UFF - the two groups now at each others throats.

But that Combined Command crumbled in 1997 and the feuding within loyalism can be traced back to that period.

UVF split as Wright formed LVF splinter group
There was a split within the UVF and out of this a splinter faction emerged - the Loyalist Volunteer Force led by Billy Wright.

He was murdered by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1997.

That split within the UVF was never healed and in recent months a number of killings and other attacks have been linked to a feud between this group and the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force.

There had been a suspicion, to put it mildly, that elements of the UFF on Belfast's Shankill Road had sided with the splinter faction and was assisting it in its fight with the UVF.

So bitter are the divisions, the UVF sought and believed it had an assurance from the UFF that no LVF regalia would be displayed at a loyalist march in Belfast last weekend.

The raising of an LVF flag was the spark that ignited the latest wave of violence.

The security response has been to flood the Shankill Road with additional police officers and soldiers but there is now evidence of the loyalist infighting spreading beyond Belfast.

No one is predicting an early end to the feud and some observers believe their are individuals within the UFF who want to use this situation to take control of the loyalist community.

For some the feuding has become a battle for power and dominance.

See also:

22 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
In pictures: Belfast's tense streets
22 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Night of uneasy calm in Belfast
21 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Troops back on Belfast streets
21 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Man killed in 'loyalist feud' shooting
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