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Two British military personnel killed in N.Ireland

Two British military personnel were killed and four people were seriously wounded in a shooting at an army base in Northern Ireland, police said yesterday.

"The two fatalities as I understand it are military personnel," a police spokeswoman said, adding that two of the wounded were also from the army.

The shooting at the Massereene base near the town of Antrim followed reports that British special forces were back in the province gathering intelligence on dissident republicans.

A 1998 peace deal ended 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland between the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which seeks a united Ireland, and pro-British Protestant guerrilla groups.

Special forces operated in Northern Ireland during the conflict, in which more than 3.000 people were killed.

British troops were stood down in the province in 2007, but sporadic violence has continued despite the peace deal.

In January, a bomb was defused in Castlewellan, a town 30 miles (50 km) south of the province's capital Belfast. A splinter republican group claimed responsibility for planting the bomb.

Nationalist politicians reacted angrily to the reports that members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, at the forefront of intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, had returned to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's police chief Hugh Orde said on Friday he had deployed "specialists" to help police handle dissident groups but that they were not "special forces".


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