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Saturday, June 5, 1999 Published at 02:52 GMT 03:52 UK


Arrests follow loyalist bombing

Soldiers search the area near the scene of the attack

The RUC has arrested five people following a bomb attack in Portadown, County Armagh, in which a 59-year-old woman was killed.

David Eades in Portadown: The murder has served to heighten tensions
Elizabeth O'Neill's husband escaped unhurt in the explosion at their home in the early hours of Saturday morning.

It is understood the couple's marriage crossed the sectarian divide, which may have been the motive.

Protestant or loyalist paramilitaries opposed to the peace process have been blamed for a recent spate of attacks in Northern Ireland.

The RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said he believed loyalists were behind the bombing in Portadown, which he described as "cowardly."

The BBC's Paula McCann: The bomb landed at her feet
Police believe a brick was thrown into the house in Corcrain Drive, followed shortly afterwards by a blast bomb. Mrs O'Neill died instantly when she picked up the device to try to throw it back into the street.

A second house in nearby Westland Drive was attacked a few moments later, but a couple and their young child escaped unscathed.

The Search for Peace
Another device which was thrown at a house in Belfast failed to explode.

At Hilltown, in Co Down, a device exploded breaking the living room window of a house. A man and several children sleeping inside escaped unhurt.

The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble claimed the attack in Portadown was an attempt to undermine efforts to resolve the dispute surrounding the contentious Orange Order march at Drumcree, a short distance away.

'Full investigation under way'

An RUC spokesman said: "A full investigation has been launched and a follow-up operation has commenced.

"At this stage no motive has been established."

[ image: Elizabeth O'Neill had lived peacefully in the community for 36 years]
Elizabeth O'Neill had lived peacefully in the community for 36 years
He said no organisation had admitted carrying out the attack.

But later the RUC said: "We are satisfied that both attacks are the work of loyalist extremists."

Breandan MacCionnaith, of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, said he was "shocked and dismayed" at the bombing.

Brendan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Residents' Assn: Shock and dismay is the first reaction
He said the attack was "very clearly carried out by loyalists."

Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuiness accused the Orange Order of "fanning the flames of sectarianism".

And he said the refusal of unionist leaders to implement the Good Friday agreement had "created a political vacuum in which loyalist rejectionists have flourished".

Several people living near to the scene of the latest attack were woken up and evacuated as a precaution.

Both houses were in a predominantly Protestant area of the town, but the victims are believed to have been picked out because their relationship crossed the sectarian divide.

The BBC's David Eades: The night's events will not have made resolution of the Drumcree crisis any easier
The area where the bombs went off is only a short distance from the Garvaghy Road, which is at the heart of Northern Ireland's most contentious parade dispute.

The local Orange Order has been refused permission to walk along the route, which runs through a nationalist area, on the way back from a church service at nearby Drumcree.

Dispute over parade

New talks aimed at resolving the Drumcree crisis got under way in Belfast on Friday.

David Trimble: It's an appalling act
Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble called the attack "an appalling act which has to be condemned by everybody".

"I am afraid that we have to assume that it was deliberately timed to prevent or to limit or damage the talks that are going on at the moment about the ongoing Drumcree problem in Portadown."

He said those involved in the talks should "redouble their efforts to reach agreement so that the killers do not reap the benefit."

Tension in the area has been high since March, when sectarian clashes broke out in the wake of the car bomb murder of Catholic human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson.

At about the same time as the attacks in Portadown - about 0100 BST - a pipe bomb was thrown at a house in Clandeboye Gardens in east Belfast.

The device, which was thrown from the direction of Cluan Place, failed to go off and was made safe after a controlled explosion.

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