Members of Irish Parliament and campaigners visit Colombia accused

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Sat Nov 30 05:27:03 MST 2002

TDs and campaigners visit Colombia accused
By Deaglán de Bréadún, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, in Bogota

  COLOMBIA: Two Dáil deputies have visited the three Irishmen detained in a
Colombia jail awaiting trial on a charge of training Marxist rebels.

The Sinn Féin TD, Mr Sean Crowe, and the Independent TD, Mr Finian McGrath,
were accompanied on their visit to La Modelo prison in Bogota by Mr Paul
Hill, who was wrongfully convicted and served 15 years with other members of
the Guildford Four for a crime he did not commit, and Ms Caitriona Ruane, of
the Bring Them Home campaign.

The visiting group is part of a larger Irish delegation which arrived in
Bogota on Thursday night to observe the trial, which resumes on Monday for
three days. A third member of the Oireachtas, Senator Mary White, of Fianna
Fáil, is expected to arrive in Bogota today. Other observers are coming from
the US.

The Irish group includes the former Sinn Féin director of publicity, Mr
Danny Morrison, former Long Kesh hunger-striker, Dr Laurence McKeown and two
Irish lawyers, Mr Patrick Daly and Mr Ronan Munro. They will be seeking
meetings with senior members of the Colombian government, lawyers on both
sides, the UN and the Red Cross, among others.

Three other lawyers are planning to observe the proceedings: Mr Frank Durkan
and Mr Cody McCone, from New York, and their Australian colleague, Mr Shaun
Kerrigan. Some of the observers are also due to give evidence in the trial.

The accused are Mr James Monaghan (56), Mr Martin McCauley (40) and Mr Niall
Connolly (36). They were arrested at Bogota's El Dorado airport on August
11th, 2001, and have since been charged with training FARC rebels in
explosive techniques and with using false passports.

In line with Colombian judicial procedure, the case is being held before a
judge with no jury. A pre-trial investigation lasting over a year was
carried out by the attorney general's office.

On October 16th last, Judge Jairo Acosta decided that the case should go to
trial. The accused did not attend the court, saying they could not get a
fair trial. In a statement last month, the three said they had visited
Colombia, "to get to know the people, the natural beauty and the peace

However, in an interview with the Washington Post last April, the then
president of Colombia, Mr Andres Pastrana, said, referring to the three men:
"IRA members were captured in Colombia after training FARC guerrillas in
urban terrorism."

Responding to this and other comments by Colombian public figures imputing
guilt to them, the three men said: "This is a violation of our rights and
internationally-recognised guarantees." The FARC guerrilla organisation is
believed to control about 40 per cent of Colombian territory. Between 1998
and last February it oversaw an officially-sanctioned demilitarised zone
which attracted visitors from around the world but witnesses in the trial
will reportedly claim they saw the Irishmen training FARC guerrillas. This
is denied by the accused.

© The Irish Times

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