Associated Press

November 10, 1994

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Police arrested two Irish Republican Army suspects on Thursday after gunmen killed a postman in a botched robbery, sending shock waves through Northern Ireland's fragile peace process.

The killing was the first in the British-ruled province to be linked to the IRA since it announced a cease-fire in September, but the group denied breaking its pledge.

Ireland's justice minister, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, immediately rescinded plans to release jailed IRA prisoners early. The first two inmates would have been released Friday.

In a statement to Belfast media, the IRA said its Sept. 1 cease-fire meant

But the killing of Frank Kerr, a 54-year-old Catholic, confirmed to both the British and Irish governments that the IRA-Sinn Fein movement could not control all its activists.

Geoghegan-Quinn said police intelligence confirmed that at least one well-known IRA member was involved in the attack at the post office in Newry, 30 miles south of Belfast near the Irish border.

Since the IRA leadership declared an end to its 24-year campaign against British rule, politicians have dreaded but expected the first clear-cut violation.

IRA units have continued to beat criminals in Catholic areas they control, while other units have kept up fund-raising through a range of illegal rackets.

Before the truce, the IRA had robbed so many post offices, the distribution point for welfare payments, that some country offices were closed.

In the latest incident, three gunmen drove into Newry's new central post office at midday Thursday in a van painted red like a British postal vehicle. They tied up several employees at gunpoint, then forced their way into its secure back room for registered deliveries.

Kerr tried to resist and was shot fatally twice in the head and back, police and witnesses said.

The trio was unable to steal any money and escaped in a hijacked post office van. Police arrested two men near the van after it was abandoned in Meigh, a village southwest of Newry. Army units combed the area by helicopter in search of the third suspect.

A reporter interviewing Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the IRA's most prominent supporter was shaken when he heard the news. But Adams later said police were trying to smear the IRA in

Sinn Fein's moderate rival for Catholic votes, the Social Democratic and Labor Party, said there was little doubt the IRA was behind the attack.

said Seamus Mallon, the party's deputy leader and Newry's representative in Britain's Parliament.

The shooting seems certain to harden British resolve in coming British-Sinn Fein talks to insist on the surrender of IRA arms and explosives as a sign that it is serious about nonviolent politics.

Sinn Fein insists that the "decommissioning" of weaponry, most of which is hidden in southern Ireland, is possible only after negotiations and a British commitment to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

[ in America it's called the mafia, in Ireland it's called the IRA .... JP ]