A PETITION demanding that Libya apologises for its role in the IRA's terrorist campaign is being launched today, with the support of the News Letter. The many thousands of victims of IRA violence and their families are being asked to sign the formal written request. It will then be hand delivered to Downing Street, the Libyan Embassy in London and the US administration in Washington. South Armagh group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) are organising the petition.
They also have backing from the 9/11 families in America and the relatives of the victims of Israeli suicide bombings who will accompany them in Washington. And they will be seeking the signatures of Tony Blair and former Prime Minister John Major in recognition of the IRA attack on Downing Street which is believed to have been carried out with the use of Libyan supplied materials. FAIR Director William Frazer said: "The IRA could never have waged the campaign they did without Libya. "There never would have been the sustained campaign or the level and number of attacks without the Libyan backing.
"They have the blood of hundreds and hundreds of Northern Ireland people - Protestant and Catholic - and other citizens from mainland Britain on their hands. "But they have never shown any remorse or apologised." There have been previous public calls for Libya to apologise or compensate the victims. But these have gone unanswered and the British Government has so far refused to support them or offer assistance to any campaign. The petition is being gathered, after FAIR's direct attempts to engage Libya on the issue of its financing of the IRA and supply of arms stalled. FAIR has met with Libyan Embassy officials in London and had been told that a meeting with one of the sons of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi would be forthcoming. That meeting has not, however, materialised.
Mr Frazer said: "We have sought government help and tried the dialogue route but that has not, so far, worked. "What we are seeking is some form of justice and we are now looking to get people together who have either been injured themselves or lost loved ones or been effected by IRA violence in some way over the last 35 years. "We hope that by coming together as one group in a joint petition we can raise the case further in London, Washington and Tripoli." He continued: "We are asking people who have been victims - directly or indirectly - to fill in the coupon in the News Letter and send it to us. "Or they can call into our offices in Markethill or the News Letter office in Belfast and sign the petition. "Or they can e:mail us at FAIR.
"We are also looking for the names of people in the rest of the UK or even further afield, such as military personnel and their families, who have also been affected. "We just need their name and address, nothing more - no personal details." He continued: "We will then have the IRA victims all together under one banner and plan to go to London and Washington to raise the case and present the petition. "With the support of the 9/11 families in America, in particular, we hope to get a lot of publicity." LIBYA began supplying the IRA with money and weapons in 1972 - becoming the principal sponsor of the republican murder campaign in Northern Ireland. It is believed the vast bulk of the Provisionals' terrorist arsenal has emanated from the North African country.
It is also safe to assume that a majority of the 1,800 killings the IRA has been responsible for were carried out using Libyan supplied arms or money. Libya became a supporter of the IRA after contacts were established through the unlikely middle man of the Breton nationalist movement in France. In the early 70s, the IRA was developing links with a plethora of revolutionary movements in Europe and the Middle East. It is thought that a pact signed with Basque separatist terrorists in Spain (ETA) in April 1972, created ties with a number of smaller terrorist groups across the world, including the Breton Freedom Front, the Corsica Liberation Movement and the armed wing of the Kurdish Workers Party .
The Bretons told the IRA it may be worthwhile approaching Libya which had made it clear it was ready and able to assist groups who were prepared to confront old imperial powers which had once ruled in the Middle East and North Africa. After assuming power in Libya in 1969, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi began supporting a wide variety of terrorist organisations and insurgencies that shared his disdain for the international order and its primary guardian, the United States. In particular he backed Islamic fundamentalist groups but also others in Europe, particularly those revolting against the UK and France. With considerable oil wealth to draw upon, he began financing terror groups and by the mid-80s the US believed he was the main backer for around 30 groups worldwide. The IRA's activities in the UK, against an old colonial foe, had not escaped his attention.
In June 1972 he made a radio broadcast in which he spoke of a "new alliance", across the Middle and Europe, of revolutionaries opposing Britain and America - adding, "we support the revolutionaries of Ireland". Shortly after this, it is believed that two members of the IRA Army Council, Joe Cahill and Denis McInerney, travelled to Poland in the summer of 1972 to meet agents from the Libyan Intelligence Services. Libya agreed to supply money and weapons and an IRA "ambassador" to Tripoli was chosen. Smuggling the arms began by sea in 1972. Figures for the size of shipments are based on estimates. To date the British Government, which is believed to know the extent of the arms importation has refused to release its official figures. THE terrifying extent to which Libya was arming the IRA became apparent in October 1987 when a cargo vessel, the Eskund was intercepted off the coast of France. The boat, bound for Ireland, was sailing from Tripoli and was loaded with 150 tonnes of sophisticated weaponry.
On board was:
**1,000 AK-47 assault rifles;
**a million rounds of ammunition;
**12 rocket-propelled grenade launchers;
**12 Russian DHSK machine guns;
**50 SAM-7 ground to air missiles;
**2,000 electric detonators and 4,700 fuses;
**106 millimetre cannons;
**general purpose machine guns;
**anti-tank missile launchers;
**and two tonnes of Czech-made Semtex explosive.
This was fifth shipment in lees than two years and also by far and away the biggest.
It also followed huge financial donations and cargoes of weapons and lodgements of money in the 1970s, which made the IRA a colossal threat.
In the book A Secret History of the IRA, author Ed Moloney believes that between 1972 and 1975, Colonel Gadaffi supplied around $3.5 million ($10 million in today's money) to the IRA through City of London banks. There are indications that at least three arms shipments also got through at this time, with tonnes of weapons on-board. In the late 70s the IRA-Libya relationship cooled. It is believed this was partly because the Libyans were uncomfortable with the IRA man acting as go-between and some of his activities. But in the mid 1980s the Libyan connection was to be reignited to deadly effect and huge shipments of arms began sailing to the shores of the Republic of Ireland. It was the Libyans who resurrected the link, as part of its response to renewed conflict with the United States and UK. The 1984 shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London, by a Libyan gunman, soured British relations.
Tensions with the US in the Middle East led to the Libyan inspired bombing of a Berlin disco, frequented by US military personnel, and American war planes attacking Libya, killing 100 people in 1986. Libyan agents looked to re-establish the IRA link in 1984-85 and are believed to have initially offered $10 million and tonnes of weaponry, on the understanding it would be used against Margaret Thatcher's government. Between 1985 and 1987, massive shipments of weapons and explosives were sent, as was money. IRA members also travelled to Libya for specialist training in the use of their new armoury. Among those who visited Libya was South Armagh IRA leader Thomas "Slab" Murphy who was the Provisionals director of operations. Libya, meanwhile, was brazenly up-front about the relationship.
Gadaffi told one interviewer in 1987 that the supply of weapons to the IRA was taking place and increasing. His son, Sadi, the same year, told an conference in Tripoli - where two Sinn Fein representatives were present - that Libya wished to open an IRA office in its capital. But later in 1987, the Libyan link - having been hugely successful for the IRA - was to be all but ended when the biggest arms cargo to date was intercepted and captured aboard the Eskund vessel. The Eskund was loaded in Tripoli docks at night-time, as the Libyans and IRA attempted to avoid detection by Western spies. But the cargo had already been compromised by intelligence sources and was being tracked.
During its two week journey, it then suffered mechanical problems and when repairs failed the five man crew - which included IRA director of engineering Gabriel Cleary, a bomb maker from Dublin - began to panic. The boat's steering had gone and it drifted towards Brittany on the French coast, rather than in the direction of the Irish Republic. The ship had been installed with explosive devices to sink it, should there be a serious problem. The crew already believed they were being watched and took the decision to "scuttle" the vessel. But when Cleary went to examine the 12 explosive charges based beneath the Eskund's waterline, he found they had been sabotaged - a sure sign that the mission had been infiltrated by someone else on-board. That same day, October 27, the Eskund was surrounded and boarded by French customs.
The full scale of the IRA's Libya connection then became news in the UK and Ireland. Had the vessel succeeded in reaching its destination it would have given the IRA the means to launch a plans for a massive offensive on Northern Ireland. As it was the hundreds of tonnes of arms and millions of dollars of money that did make its way to Ireland between 1972 and 1987, were enough to kill hundreds - possibly more than a thousand - maim many more and destroy the centres of many towns and cities.
Below is a copy of the petition as it appeared in the Newsletter-
I the undersigned hereby state that I have been a victim of IRA violence and I call upon Libya to apologise for its role in supplying weapons, training and finance to the IRA to allow it terrorise, murder and maim people of the United Kingdom,
Please send this coupon to: Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, 18 Mowhan Road, Mount Pleasant House, Markethill, County Armagh, BT60 1RQ.
Petitions can also be signed at the FAIR offices.
Names and addresses can also be emailed to FAIR at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Only names and addresses are needed. No other personal details are required.
HELP US TELL THE TRUTH