Murder of soldier dims Ulster hopes

HOPES FOR an end to terrorist violence in Northern Ireland fell away last night after an IRA sniper killed a soldier in south Armagh.

The 22-year-old soldier was the first person to be murdered in Northern Ireland since the Downing Street peace declaration two weeks ago. He died in hospital after being shot while on patrol in the border village of Crossmaglen.

He was the ninth member of the security forces killed in sniper attacks on the border in the past two years and the 84th terrorist killing in Northern Ireland in 1993.

The shooting in Crossmaglen prompted angry reactions in London and Belfast. The Northern Ireland security minister, Sir John Wheeler, describing it as a 'wicked crime', said: 'It particularly grieves me at this time when so many people in Northern Ireland - indeed the whole of these islands - are yearning for peace and there is a real opportunity for peace.'

Seamus Mallon, MP for south Armagh and SDLP deputy leader, said the murder posed serious questions about the IRA's sincerity in claiming it was considering the declaration by John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister. 'To have murdered so callously at a time when the prospects for peace are being explored does nothing but bring a wave of despair to the entire community.'

David Trimble, Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, said the IRA had had enough time to consider the deal and called on Mr Major to take action. 'It is time for him to make clear he will not be strung along by terrorists any further and the way he can do that is by an adequate security response'.

The IRA is expected to respond officially to the Downing Street declaration next month, but despite statements from Mr Major and Mr Reynolds that no negotiations will happen until there is a permanent end to violence, Sinn Fein and the IRA appear to be holding out to try for concessions.

Mr Mallon, who said he had seen the declaration and an earlier agreement between John Hume, SDLP leader, and Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president, said there was little, if any, difference between the two. If the IRA were citing differences as reasons for maintaining the violence that was 'spurious'.

The IRA claimed it had devised a new armour-piercing mortar projectile. One soldier suffered arm wounds after two patrols in Belfast were attacked yesterday. Bombs hit a library and the soldier was struck by shrapnel.