The price of peace can be stiff.

Residents of Omagh, Northern Ireland, found that out in a brutal fashion last week when a car bomb killed 28 and injured more than 200.Despite that terrible tragedy, leaders of the various factions that hammered out the historic peace agreement for Northern Ireland cannot let this cowardly act derail their efforts.

In May, the people spoke with a thundering voice at the ballot box to end 30 years of violence that claimed 3,400 lives. The margin of victory was overwhelming - 71 percent in Northern Ireland and 94 percent in the independent Republic of Ireland voted for the long-awaited peace agreement.

The people thus clearly are behind the quest for peace rather than the divisiveness that preceded the May vote.

Unfortunately, there are those unwilling to abide by the will of the vast majority. They have twisted agendas that permit the slaughter of men, women and children to achieve their goals. In this case a group of IRA dissidents dedicated to destroying the peace agreement is suspected of causing the fatal blast.

The perpetrators need to be caught and punished in accordance with Northern Ireland law. In addition to the unrelenting commitment to peace, a message must be sent that those who violate the law in such a heinous manner will be relentlessly pursued and will be held accountable.

The act in Omagh, a religiously mixed town of 2,000, follows by a month another tragedy that claimed the lives of three brothers when their home was firebombed.

In that case officials for both Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland's new government, where power is shared between Protestants and Catholics, appeared together to denounce the killings. They need to share that unity in confronting the latest bombing, as well.

As we have noted, there is plenty of blame on both sides of the Protestant-Catholic equation. Both parties wisely have made significant commitments to put the checkered past behind them in exchange for a bright future. Bombings and other acts of terror must not prevent them from maintaining their strong commitment to peace.