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Punishment beating and exile
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• Statistics: Paramilitary punishment' beatings, 1987-1996

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Punishment beatings

Cast worn by the victim of a beating

Punishment beatings and shootings have been a brutal facet of life throughout the Troubles. The are regularly carried out by paramilitaries on both sides of the sectarian divide.

While there has been a near cessation of organised bombings, exile and beatings continue to make headlines.

Nearly 1,000 people have been forced into exile since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Most head to mainland cities such as London and Manchester. But separation from family and friends can drive them into depression and further trouble. Returning home, even for a short visit, is viewed as grave dissent. Those who dare to defy paramilitary orders are punished with death.

The beatings are equally vicious - some of the shootings have been fatal. The infamous kneecappings are common but not well understood. In most cases, the gunshot is not fired at the knee but into the fleshy back part of the thigh.

The danger is worse than shattered bone. Many victims have major arteries severed. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were so many "kneecappings" that surgeons at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital developed a special treatment to cope with arterial damage.

Usually it is gangs that carry out the attacks. The motive can be a personal grudge or a real or imagined slight. Those singled out for attacks are often alleged by the paramilitaries to have been involved in crimes such as supplying drugs, or joyriding.

Most experts argue that the attacks are the result of a breakdown in law and order caused by The Troubles. In republican areas, the official police force, the RUC, has little credibility and members of the community turn to paramilitaries to "get something done" about petty criminals.

"There is an awful lot of feeling that they're getting some of what they deserve because of what they've done," says security expert Alan Murray. "Certainly in these areas, it's seen as swift justice - as certain justice."

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