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2 Killed in Ireland Attack

March 4, 1998

POYNTZPASS, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Masked gunmen have killed two friends _ one a Catholic, the other Protestant _ and wounded three others at a country pub in this religiously mixed village.

No group claimed responsibility. Politicians blamed Protestant extremists for attacking the Catholic-owned pub in a bid to poison the atmosphere for Northern Ireland’s peace talks, which continue today in Belfast, 25 miles to the north.

Poyntzpass was full of visitors to a nighttime market across the street from the Railway Bar when the killers struck about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Survivors said they ordered the customers and staff onto the floor _ then tried to shoot each of the patrons.

Damien Traynor, a Catholic in his late 20s, and Philip Allen, a Protestant in his early 30s, were childhood friends, regulars at the bar and nearest the gunmen. They were both shot at close range and pronounced dead on arrival at Daisy Hill Hospital in nearby Newry.

The pub’s elderly owner, Bernadette Canavan, said she narrowly missed being shot by escaping out a side exit. ``If I’d done what the men said I’d be dead too,″ she said, shaking and in tears.

Three others suffered wounds in the arms or legs before the gunmen fled in a car that headed toward Banbridge, a predominantly pro-British Protestant town nearby.

One of Canavan’s sons is a local councilman for the north’s major Catholic party, the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party, which wants Ireland united but opposes IRA violence.

The SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, who lives nearby, said he was sure that the killers were Protestant militants opposed to the negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future.

Northern Ireland’s police chief, Ronnie Flanagan, said ``it is absolutely clear that extremists from both sides are intent on, literally, killing off the efforts of those who are working for a better way forward.″

The north’s two major pro-British paramilitary groups have maintained a 1994 truce and are sending representatives to the peace talks. A renegade gang, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, has recruited disillusioned members from both groups to maintain their campaign against the north’s Catholic minority.

Poyntzpass is on the edge of a predominantly Catholic border region, South Armagh, where support for the Irish Republican Army runs high.

While the IRA claims to be sticking to its own 7-month-old truce, dissidents calling themselves Continuity IRA have been blamed for a series of car bombings and attempts.

In the latest incident, police in the Irish Republic found a 600-pound car bomb stored in a hayshed about a mile from Northern Ireland. Army experts dismantled the bomb Tuesday.

Previously, Continuity IRA was blamed for a car bomb Feb. 23 that wrecked downtown Portadown, the Protestant power base of the Loyalist Volunteers.

They were last blamed for killing in January, when five Catholic civilians died.

The British and Irish governments, which co-sponsor the peace talks, expelled representatives of the north’s major Protestant gang, the Ulster Defense Association, for four weeks after concluding its members helped the Loyalist Volunteers in the January killing spree.

The governments also expelled the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party two weeks ago after concluding that the IRA killed two men in Belfast. Sinn Fein may be readmitted as long as the IRA is implicated in no more violence.

But Sinn Fein leaders, upset at being suspended, are threatening not to return unless they can meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair first.

The talks are supposed to conclude by May with an agreement on how to govern Northern Ireland. Protestants demand a strong new local government, while Catholics want to build formal ties with the rest of Ireland, which won independence from Britain in 1922.

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