British forces went on alert in Northern Ireland on Sunday after two soldiers were killed in a barracks attack. British PM Gordon Brown vowed the deaths would not 'derail a peace process' in place to recover the province from decades of violence.
AFP - British forces went on alert in North Ireland on Sunday after two soldiers were killed in a barracks attack, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed the deaths would not drag the province back into sectarian strife.
Gunmen with machine guns entered the barracks late Saturday as pizzas were delivered and fired up to 40 shots in two long bursts of gunfire, including shots at those already on the ground, reports said.
Two soldiers died and four other people were wounded at the headquarters of the Royal Engineers at Massereene, northwest of Belfast. It was the worst toll for the British army since a soldier was killed by a sniper in 1997.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed the two dead were soldiers, while police said two military personnel and two pizza delivery men were seriously wounded.
The shootings were condemned by leaders in Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Brown said it was a "cowardly" attack.
"I can assure you that we will bring these people to justice," he vowed.
"No murderer will be able to derail a peace process that has the support of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland and we will step up our efforts to make the peace process one that lasts and endures."
He said: "Our first priority has always been the safety of people in Northern Ireland, and we will do everything in our power to make sure that Northern Ireland is safe and secure."
The shootings happened just 36 hours after Northern Ireland's police chief Hugh Orde revealed that undercover British army special forces personnel had been called in to monitor dissident Republicans.
Orde said dissidents were out to kill a police officer and said the security threat was the worst it had been in years.
No group has yet claimed the barracks attack.
The shootings have raised fears for the stability of the devolved power-sharing government, which includes former foes from across the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he condemned the murders "in the strongest possible terms" and wanted those responsible brought swiftly to justice.
"We had all hoped that senseless violence was a thing of the past. Violence has been utterly rejected by the people of this island, both north and south.
"A tiny group of evil people can not and will not undermine the will of the people of Ireland to live in peace together."
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has postponed an imminent official trip to the United States.
Northern Ireland endured three decades of civil unrest in which around 3,000 people were killed. The violence largely ended with the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
A deal was agreed in 2007 in which the Protestant conservative Democratic Unionist Party, which wants Northern Ireland to stay part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic socialists Sinn Fein, who call for integration into the Republic of Ireland, agreed to form a power-sharing government which has powers devolved from London.
Paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland are now relatively rare compared to the height of the unrest.
But the last 18 months have seen an upsurge in violence by Republicans opposed to the peace process, including more than a dozen unsuccessful murder bids against police officers.
British soldiers have not patrolled in Northern Ireland for two years as part of the peace process but keeps a significant presence there.
Date created : 2009-03-08