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Reward Offer Bringing in Tips in IRA Killing of Australians

May 29, 1990

ROERMOND, Netherlands (AP) _ Dutch police alerted all border guards, offered a reward and investigated dozens of tips today, but they were unable to determine the identity of the IRA killers of two Australian tourists.

The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for Sunday night’s shooting of the two Australians, saying it ″tragically mistook″ them for British servicemen.

The victims were driving a British-registered car, and the attack took place in a district of this southern Dutch city frequented by British soldiers stationed in nearby West Germany.

Investigators said up to 20 people witnessed the shootings, but no one had been able to give them a good description of the killers of Stephen Melrose and Nick Spanos, Australian citizens who lived in London.

National Police spokesman Louis Steens said about 40 tips had come in since police offered a $52,000 reward late Monday for information leading to arrests in the slayings.

In Australia, Prime Minister Bob Hawke today condemned the killings and denounced the IRA’s description of the two as accidental victims of war.

″This sort of warped logic of war casualties adds insult to a mortal injury,″ Hawke said.

Although Dutch police immediately alerted border guards, it is only a 10- minute drive from Roermond to the nearest Belgian and West German border crossings, and the Belgian border is virtually unguarded.

Steens told reporters at National Police headquarters that investigators believed it was ″sheer coincidence″ that the Australians arrived just as an IRA hit squad was seeking a target. Roermond’s cafe district was the site of another IRA attack in 1988.

Melrose, 24, was shot as he was preparing to take a picture of the floodlit town hall. Spanos, 28, was shot inside their car.

Melrose’s wife Lyndal, 29, and Spanos’ girlfriend, Vicky Coss, 24, were uninjured. They fled screaming for help, according to eyewitnesses.

Steens said the two women had returned to London and ″their condition is still very bad.″

″They are in heavy shock,″ he said.

He refused to provide certain details about the attack, such as the number of bullets fired or the weapons used.

Roermond residents laid a wreath and attached white and pink carnations to police fences surrounding the shooting site in their historic market square. A chalk outline of Melrose’s body was still visible.

There are far more eyewitnesses of the shooting than in 1988, when the IRA killed three off-duty British servicemen in coordinated attacks here and in Nieuwbergen, 30 miles to the north, said Steens. But witnesses to this attack disagree on the number and description of the IRA gunmen, he said.

The almost exclusively Catholic Irish Republican Army is fighting to push the British out of Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, join it with the Republic of Ireland and set up an all-Ireland socialist state.

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