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UK rejects new probe into 1971 Belfast killings

DUBLIN — Britain announced Tuesday that it will not order a fact-finding probe into the 1971 killing of 10 Belfast Catholics, including a priest, by British troops during a three-day street confrontation, a decision that infuriated relatives of the dead.

The relatives have lobbied for an investigation similar to the one that explored 1972’s Bloody Sunday, when troops shot dead 13 Catholic demonstrators in another city, Londonderry. That 12-year probe concluded the soldiers killed unarmed civilians, not armed IRA members.

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Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said Britain did not believe a probe ‘‘would provide answers which are not already in the public domain or covered by existing legal processes.’’ She noted Northern Ireland’s attorney general already had ordered new coroner’s court investigations, a three-year-old process that has yet to produce any findings.

A coroner’s court gathers evidence of the cause of death, including the nature of the gunshot wounds. A fact-finding inquiry would be much wider and include witness statements from the now retired soldiers who opened fire.

The carnage in the Irish Republican Army stronghold of Ballymurphy, west Belfast, came as Britain launched raids across Catholic districts of Northern Ireland to arrest and imprison hundreds of IRA members. The operation failed, however, and triggered widespread rioting.

In Ballymurphy a three-way gunfight erupted between local IRA men, Protestant extremists, and British soldiers. The soldiers said they were under IRA attack. Locals insisted all victims were unarmed passers-by or trying to aid the wounded.

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