U.K. considered ethnic cleansing in N. Ireland

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Wed Jan 1 03:06:33 MST 2003

U.K. mulled plan to expel Catholics from N. Ireland

Associated Press
Wednesday, January 1, 2003

LONDON -- At the height of bloodletting in Northern Ireland, the British
government considered trying to end the sectarian conflict by forcibly
moving hundreds of thousands of Catholics to the Irish Republic, according
to records released yesterday.

But the top secret contingency plan -- dated July 23, 1972 -- was rejected
out of concern it would not work unless the government was prepared to be
"completely ruthless" in carrying it out, and that it would provoke outrage
at home and abroad, especially in the United States.

"We do not believe that the government would be able to obtain the support
of public opinion in Great Britain for the drastic actions that we consider
in this paper," the newly declassified document says.

"Any faint hope of success must be set against the implications of a course
which would demonstrate to the world that [the government] was unable to
bring about the peaceful solution of problems save by expelling large
numbers of its own citizens and doing so on a religious basis," the document

It is the first indication that Britain once considered using a method that
came to be known as "ethnic cleansing," a strategy Britain, among many
nations, denounced when Serbs used it against Muslims and ethnic Albanians
during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The plan came to light in a batch of formerly confidential papers
declassified after 30 years and released by Britain's Public Records Office.

The plan is contained in a report commissioned by the government of Edward

Mr. Heath was prime minister at a time when Britain was on the verge "of
losing control" in Northern Ireland, the document says.

Signed by cabinet secretary Sir Burke Trend, the plan called for a "massive
reinforcement of troops" in the province accompanied by "searches,
interrogation and possibly internment" against Catholic and Protestant
paramilitary groups.

If that failed, another suggested solution involved either redrawing the
border or a "compulsory transfer of population" affecting more than a fourth
of the province's 1.5 million residents.

More than 200,000 Catholics would be moved from Northern Ireland to the
Irish Republic or "into homogenous enclaves within Northern Ireland."

A similar number of Protestants living in lands ceded to the Irish Republic
would be moved into what remained of Northern Ireland.

The report notes that such a plan "raises obvious political difficulties"
and would provoke outrage in the United States and among Britain's other

"Unless the government were prepared to be completely ruthless in the use of
force, the chances of imposing a settlement consisting of a new partition
together with some compulsory transfer of population would be negligible,"
the document says.

It advised the government continue the "present policy of reconciliation,
tempered with a firm but selective military response to terrorism."

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