[IWAR] IRELAND Britain to announce Bloody Sunday probe

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Date: Thu Jan 29 1998 - 12:22:28 PST

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    Thursday January 29 11:44 AM EST 
    Britain To Announce New Bloody Sunday Probe
       By Giles Elgood
       BELFAST, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - Britain was set to announce on
       Thursday a fresh inquiry into the "Bloody Sunday" killings in
       Londonderry in 1972, when paratroopers killed 14 civil rights marchers.
       Prime Minister Tony Blair was expected to make an announcement -- which
       comes at a delicate moment in multi-party Northern Ireland peace talks
       -- in the House of Commons in London later in the day.
       While the peace talks have struggled, Northern Ireland has been rocked
       by a growing spiral of sectarian violence that has claimed 10 lives
       since Christmas.
       Blair was not expected at this stage to issue an apology for the
       killings -- one of the most contentious incidents in nearly 30 years of
       strife in Northern Ireland -- because that could prejudice the inquiry.
       The judicial inquiry was expected to be chaired by a senior British
       judge, with two other judges, possibly from the Commonwealth and the
       United States, according to British media reports.
       Relatives of the dead have long been pressing for a new inquiry into the
       killings, whose 26th anniversary falls on Friday.
       They say the original 1972 inquiry, chaired by Lord Widgery, the Lord
       Chief Justice of England, was a whitewash that exonerated the soldiers
       of the Parachute Regiment who opened fire on marchers in Londonderry's
       Catholic Bogside area. Soldiers said they were fired on first.
       The killings fueled the flames of Irish nationalist hatred for Britain
       in Northern Ireland and produced an upsurge in new recruits for the
       Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrilla force.
       The prospect of a new inquiry was welcomed by Catholic nationalists but
       greeted with little enthusiasm by Protestant, pro-British unionists.
       Unionists saw the move as a concession to the IRA's political wing, Sinn
       Fein, intended to keep the party in the peace talks.
       John Hume, leader of the moderate Catholic nationalist Social Democratic
       and Labour Party, said relatives of the dead wanted only to establish
       the truth of what had happened on Bloody Sunday and he did not see how
       anyone could object to this.
       "I have been informed by the government that a statement will be made in
       the House of Commons today," he told BBC radio.
       "I think what is important is that the full truth be established and
       that is what the families want. That is something that is absolutely and
       totally reasonable," said Hume, one of the architects of the faltering
       Anglo-Irish peace process.
       Unionists said that if there were to be an inquiry into Bloody Sunday,
       there should also be investigations into killings by the IRA that have
       contributed to a death toll of more than 3,200 since the conflict in
       Northern Ireland began.
       Gregory Campbell, a Democratic Unionist Party councilor from
       Londonderry, said that in any case an inquiry was now unlikely to
       discover what really happened.
       "Twenty six years later, the reality is that no one will ever know the
       whole truth," he said. Relatives of the dead welcomed the news, which
       they heard through the media, but were angered because they said
       Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam had broken a promise to keep them
       personally informed.
       They said they wanted an independent inquiry, the repudiation of the
       Widgery report and that those responsible for the killings should be
       brought to justice.
       "Our three demands still stand," said Margaret Wray, whose brother died
       on January 30, 1972.
       Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's cycle of violence continued. Three men
       were recovering in hospital on Thursday after a night of
       paramilitary-style gun attacks and punishment beatings. ^REUTERS

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