IRA gun attack in Derry may put SF talks at risk

Wed, Jun 11, 1997, 01:00

THE IRA attack on a British army unit in Derry yesterday may have jeopardised prospects of another meeting between Sinn Fein and officials from the Northern Ireland Office.

Speaking after a plenary session of the Stormont talks, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, said she had not had an opportunity to get a full report on the incident. She has said all along that a further meeting depended on "the situation on the ground".

Dr Mowlam told reporters: "I will certainly have a look at this. What Sinn Fein have to understand is that the ball is now in their court. We are doing all we can to make the talks inclusive, but unless they are serious about the process it's very difficult for us to achieve that."

There have been two meetings in recent weeks, but Dr Mowlam stressed they were for purposes of clarification and did not constitute parallel talks. "We may have one more, but nothing has been firmly settled yet although Sinn Fein have asked for a meeting," Dr Mowlam said.

The incident took place shortly before noon when several shots were fired at an unmarked van carrying British soldiers along Derry's Foyle Road.

In a statement, the IRA claimed one of its active service units had shot at an undercover British army unit operating on the west bank of the Foyle. The caller, who used a recognised code word, said the IRA unit believed at least one of the soldiers in the van had been killed or seriously injured.

However, a spokesman for the Royal Ulster Constabulary emphatically denied the claim although he confirmed that shots at an "unmarked" van carrying soldiers had been reported.

Police believe the shots were fired from a white van travelling towards the city centre. A van was later found abandoned at Glendara Park in the nearby Brandywell area.

About 30 homes were evacuated as police and army carried out a follow-up security operation. Army technical experts examined the van which was later taken away for forensic examination.

Speaking at the scene of the shooting, the mayor of Derry, Mr Martin Bradley, said he was stunned by the incident, especially since the city had spent the weekend commemorating St Colmcille and praying for peace.

"This is the IRA's response to the people of Derry. This is quite clearly a two-fingered salute to the people of Derry."

He added: "I sincerely hope the ceasefire can be re-established sooner rather than later and that this is not marking the end of the de-facto ceasefire."

Yesterday's shooting was the first attack on the security forces in Derry since a female RUC officer, Mrs Alice Collins, was wounded in a sniper attack at the city's courthouse on April 10th.