LONDON -- The people of Northern Ireland were urged yesterday to "spew out the men and women of violence" as three Roman Catholic victims of the province's sectarian violence were buried and the politicians prepared for all-party peace talks.
The victims -- two teen-age girls and a man in his 20s -- were shot in a candy store by a hooded gunman Thursday night in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. The Protestant Action Force, which police believe may have been conducting a reign of terror for the past 15 months, said it carried out the slayings.
The Catholic bishop of Dromore, Francis Brooks, said that of all the murders of the past 20 years of troubles, the "criminal, ruthless cutting down of three innocent people in the prime of life" plumbed new depths of depravity.
After the Easter funeral service, Bishop Brooks told reporters: "Many, many people on both sides, I would say the vast majority, are very anxious that there should be an end to this strife and terror."
The latest tit-for-tat murders between outlawed Catholic and Protestant extremists has stunned Northern Ireland because women were the targets for each side.
Nine days ago Margaret Cooke, widow of a police officer and mother of three, was shot and critically wounded as she drove home from work in Londonderry. The Irish Republican Army was blamed.
Thursday's victims were shot at point-blank range. The Protestant Action Force said the killing of the young Catholic man, Brian Frizell, 29, an unemployed plumber, and two teen-age Catholic girls, Katrina Rennie, 16, and Eileen Duffy, 19, was in retaliation for the attack on Mrs. Cooke.
Almost 1,000 mourners attended the funeral services yesterday tohear the parish priest, the Rev. Tom McGuinness, call the sectarian violence "this cancer in our society," appealing for no retaliation.
The latest bloody exchange between the two sides coincides with moves by the British government to open all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland.
Both loyalist and republican leaders have accepted the invitation of Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke to open all-party face-to-face talks later this month for the first time in 15 years. British Prime Minister John Major and his Irish counterpart, Charles Haughey, will discuss the initiative during a special European summit meeting in Luxembourg this week.
Politicians in the province have warned that the prospect of peace talks could provoke the extremists on both sides to greater violence.
In apparent respect for the victims, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, which is fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland, canceled four parades to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which preceded the birth of the Irish state.
But Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, told a rally to mark the Dublin uprising that the Craigavon shootings were not "random or senseless."
"They have a purpose, depraved though it may be," he said, suggesting that the loyalist objective was to terrorize the nationalists and provoke retaliation.
In a coded message to the Press Association in Belfast last week, the Protestant Action Force sought to justify the Craigavon killings by claiming that Eileen Duffy was a known republican activist and that the shop's owner was a republican killer.
The warning mirrors a standing IRA threat that any businesses supporting or supplying British security forces in the province will be regarded as legitimate targets.