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Thursday, January 11, 2001

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Spectre of violence in Ulster

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON, JAN. 10. Fears of fresh violence in Northern Ireland were raised today after one of the most dreaded loyalist terrorists, Johnny ``Mad Dog'' Adair, lost his appeal for release from jail when the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr. Peter Mandelson, personally intervened to furnish ``damaging information'' to the Sentence Review Commission.

Mr. Mandelson told the Commission that Adair, leader of the paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), had been behind a series of sectarian killings, and been involved in procuring and distributing arms besides drug-trafficking to finance his campaign of terrorism against Catholics. The Commission agreed with the Government's assessment that Adair, who once boasted of enjoying the ``taste of blood'', was a risk to society and if released he was likely to ``breach the terms of his licence''.

The ruling means that 37-year-old Adair would now serve his full 16-year sentence imposed in 1995 for organising a violent and bloody campaign of terror. He was released in September 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement but was back in jail after being allegedly involved in sectarian clashes.

Mr. Mandelson has consistently opposed his release, holding him responsible for provoking intra-loyalist feuds which resulted in a number of killings. He described the Commission's ruling as being in the best interest of the community. ``I will not hesitate to revoke the licence of any prisoner who, having benefited from the early release arrangements under the Good Friday Agreement, then gets involved in... acts of terrorism'', he warned.

Though the UFF supports the Good Friday Agreement, some of its top leaders - presumably Adair included - have lately begun to turn against it, leaning more and more towards violence. Adair was not involved in the discussions that led to a ceasefire by several loyalist paramilitary groups including UFF a couple of weeks ago. Adair's aides criticised the Commission's verdict, saying he was not allowed to defend himself, and though they asked their supporters to remain peaceful, media reports raised the spectre of renewed violence. The Guardian quoted ``security and loyalist sources'' as saying the verdict ``coupled with growing loyalist cynicism about the Good Friday Agreement could be used by paramilitaries as an excuse for violence.''

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