Relatives of '72 dead hope for justice

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Thirty years ago, the British army killed 13 Catholic protesters in Londonderry, a massacre that radicalized Catholics and set the stage for Northern Ireland's bloodiest year.

In this week's commemorations of "Bloody Sunday," however, memories of that injustice are mixing with new hopes that a mammoth investigation -- the longest and most expensive in British history -- will uncover what happened on Jan. 30, 1972.

"Only the truth will lay my brother to rest," said John Kelly, whose teen-age brother Michael was among 13 men and boys slain when soldiers attacked at the end of an illegal 20,000-strong march in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's predominantly Catholic and second-largest city.

A war-hardened generation of Derry Catholics planned a minute's silence today at the spot where soldiers from the elite Parachute Regiment opened fire. Events end Sunday with a march retracing the route of the original protesters, who opposed the British government's policy at the time of interning IRA suspects without trial.

'We can wait a few more'

All this week, three independent judges continued to gather evidence. They plan to publish conclusions in 2004 after hearing more than 1,000 witnesses.

"We have waited 30 years for some form of justice, so we can wait a few more years," said Kelly, 53.

He has already testified about his recollections of the moment when British paratroopers opened fire on fleeing demonstrators.

The IRA responded with an onslaught in Northern Ireland that contributed to 1972's death toll of 496, including 134 soldiers, by far the worst in the conflict.

Kelly today helps run the Bloody Sunday Trust, a European Union-funded center that provides information to tourists and students, and a place for locals to watch the Guildhall tribunal's proceedings on television.

The tribunal opened in 1998, shortly after the IRA called off its campaign to abolish Northern Ireland as a Protestant-majority state and shortly before the province's politicians achieved the Good Friday peace accord.

An honest broker

Led by an English judge, Lord Saville, the tribunal has highlighted the profound difficulty of promoting reconciliation between Irish Catholic and British Protestant communities who each feel victimized.

For Catholics, proving the soldiers' guilt is paramount. They remain furious over the findings of a 1972 tribunal, which ruled the soldiers' firing "bordered on the reckless" but that at least some of the dead were armed. No soldiers were injured.

For Protestants, who lost nearly 1,000 dead in mostly unsolved IRA killings, the focus on Bloody Sunday insults their own dead. They tend to support the soldiers' claims that the IRA fired at them first on Bloody Sunday.

Relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead, who attend each day's hearings, credit Saville with being an honest broker. But they complain his efforts have been thwarted by Britain's Ministry of Defense, which disposed of most photo and film records of Bloody Sunday, as well as most of the soldiers' rifles used that day.

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