Sunday Life

Little hope of end to taxi wars

30 January 2005

Feuding loyalists predicted last night that lives would be lost in the bitter in-fighting between the LVF and UVF.

Dubbed 'Taxi Wars' - because of the destruction of cab drivers' livelihoods - few with knowledge of the hatred between the terrorist groups predict a peaceful outcome.

The UVF is outraged that teenage LVF members, particularly in the Ballysillan area of north Belfast, are "torturing" their members, while the LVF is incensed at UVF gun-attacks on their relatives.

And, while some discussions aimed at arranging mediation between the factions have taken place, those involved agree that the city could witness a bloodbath in coming days.

If that happens and UVF members or supporters are killed, the organisation has vowed to launch province-wide retaliation against the LVF.

One senior north Belfast loyalist told Sunday Life yesterday: "The UVF has been planning a massive series of hits against the LVF across the province, if one of their members in north Belfast is killed.

"It wouldn't just be north or west Belfast - it would spread to east Belfast and Holywood, Bangor and right into mid-Ulster, which the LVF regards as its heartland."

While police saturate north Belfast, those attempting to mediate have an opportunity to try to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

But those involved in previous mediation attempts between the two paramilitary elements last year say the prospects of a peaceful resolution are "remote".

Said another loyalist: "The UVF won't recognise the LVF, and has geared up for a war with them.

"Meanwhile, the LVF has these teenagers - virtually youngsters - in north Belfast who the UVF fears are capable of anything.

"They say these kids are high on drugs and absolutely oblivious to the consequences of their actions, and will do crazy things."

None of the senior PUP figures in north Belfast was prepared to comment on the record about this latest bout of feuding.

But one prominent figure said: "If I said what I think publicly, it would only fuel more trouble.

"We are angry at these wee thugs beating people on the streets, running drugs and operating brothels.

"The LVF is out of control - people won't take any more of this behaviour."

Jackie Mahood - a former leading member of the PUP - was forced to close his Call-A-Cab firm, because of repeated attacks on his drivers.

Said Mr Mahood: "I run a legitimate company, which complies with the law, and I am asking the forces of law and order to provide the protection, so I can run my business.

"Twelve of my drivers have had their vehicles destroyed or shot up since before Christmas.

"This isn't a dispute between the UVF and the LVF - it's about people trying legitimately to earn a living and having their livelihoods taken from them, and they associate this action with the UVF."

The latest attacks - on the Standard taxi company's drivers - has increased the misery and danger for cabbies working in north and west Belfast.

Added Mr Mahood: "I have had temporarily to close my business until my drivers get assurances that they can return to operate, without the dangers they have faced over the last month.

"I have been running a legitimate business for 20 years, including when I was in the PUP.

"The business was never attacked then by the UVF, but it is now. Why is that?"

Said another loyalist source: "Jackie's taxi business is getting it at the minute from the UVF, and now other taxi firms are being dragged into it and it looks like 'Taxi Wars'.

"But, at the heart of this, are the two UVF shootings before Christmas at what they saw as LVF targets, and the serious concern the UVF has about that young LVF element in Ballysillan.

"The UVF is very worried about what these young people would do in the future, and they have arrived at the position where they have to make a stand against this element, or they will be wiped out in north Belfast and their supporters, whether they are taxi drivers or tradesman, will be hounded out of the area and won't be able to work there."

The Loyalist Commission is understood to have had tentative discussions with both sides in the dispute, but no solid foundation for a truce formula has yet been devised.

No one from the commission was available for comment this weekend.

The UVF is a member of the Commission, but the LVF, created out of a split within the UVF in mid-Ulster, is not.

Tensions simmering since May

Since the UVF's murder of LVF chief, Brian Stewart, last May, tension has been rising between the two loyalist terror groups.

Although a fragile truce was declared shortly after Stewart's killing, violence has recently flared again in north and west Belfast.

The latest attack happened on Thursday morning, when the LVF was blamed for torching a taxi driver's car, in the Silverstream area.

Although the UVF has been blamed for the most recent violence, the LVF has also been responsible for attacks since October.

At the time, loyalist sources claimed the son of a leading ex-UVF men was attacked by LVF men, after they accused him of breaking into pensioners' homes in Ballysillan.

LVF bosses braced themselves for revenge attacks - and warned they would respond with deadly attacks on top UVF men, but there were no gun attacks.

It was the biggest crisis between the two groups since the UVF killed Stewart.

Just two months later, tension flared between the two paramilitary groups, after the first shooting incident since Stewart's killing.

Local LVF units were furious after two UVF men reportedly fired shots at a car carrying young people - including the daughter of a senior LVF figure - in north Belfast.

The LVF demanded that the UVF dealt with the two gunmen - one of whom, they claimed, was the son of a former senior figure in the UVF.

But a UVF source said the incident related to the LVF pistol-whipping of a UVF supporter, and no action was later taken by the LVF.

In another incident, in December, a taxi-driver was lucky to escape with his life when gunmen hit his car, as Christmas shoppers stared in horror.

North and west Belfast had since remained relatively calm until the latest outbreak of violence last weekend.

Concerns that a bitter feud would erupt again emerged, when the UVF was blamed for throwing tar over a young mother in the Shankill.

Since the attack, the paramilitary organisation was blamed for a spate of petrol-bomb attacks - particularly on cab drivers.

A gun-attack on a north Belfast taxi depot yesterday was also being linked to the feud.

Staff were in the depot - at Ballysillan Road - when shots were fired at the front of the building, around 4.50am. No one was injured. A short time later, a car was found burning at Brae Hill Park, in the Oldpark area.

Police have appealed for anyone with information to contact them, on (028) 9065 0222, or Crimestoppers (0800) 555111.

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