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December 16, 2004

12/16/04 - More on Colombia 3

Monthly Table of Contents 12/04

SM 12/16/04 Court Orders Arrest Of IRA-Link Trio In Hiding –V(4)
SM 12/16/04 Marathon Saga Of 'The Colombia Three'
BB 12/16/04 Q&A: The Colombia Connection

Dáil committee examines proposed M3 site - Richard Dowling, North
East Correspondent, reports from the Hill of Tara in Co Meath


Acquittal of three Irishmen overturned in Columbia - Vivienne
Traynor reports on the handing down of heavier sentences for the
three Irishmen in Bogota

Dan Connelly, brother of Niall Connelly, talks to Chief News
Correspondent Charlie Bird about the sentencing and treatment of
his brother

Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs, discusses the issue and
the possible moves of his department

Charlie Bird, Chief News Correspondent, assesses the implications
of the sentencing

Court Orders Arrest Of IRA-Link Trio In Hiding –V(4)


A court in Colombia today ordered immediate arrest of three men
linked to the IRA who are hiding in the South American country.

The decision came after the court in Bogota overturned a judge's
earlier acquittal and convicted them of training Colombian rebels
in terrorist tactics.

It sentenced them to up to 17.5 years in prison.

But the whereabouts of James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin
McCauley is a mystery.

After a judge ordered their release in April following three years
in prison, they immediately went into hiding, apparently fearful
that right-wing death squads might target them because of their
alleged ties to the country's guerrillas.

The three were arrested in August 2001 at Bogota's international
airport after leaving a rebel stronghold deep in Colombia's
southern jungles.

Monaghan's lawyer, Pedro Mahecha, said the three men have not
decided whether to lodge an appeal against the court ruling, which
brought an immediate outcry from the men's supporters.

"This is farcical. There is no justice in Colombia," said Caitriona
Ruane, who heads the Bring Them Home campaign that sought the
Irishmen's release. She declined to comment on their current

"The Irish government must intervene at the highest level to
reverse this miscarriage of justice," Ruane said in a telephone
interview from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said it was
"monitoring the situation" but would not comment ahead of official
confirmation of the sentencing.

In April, Judge Jaime Acosta cleared the trio of teaching fighters
of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, how to make
bombs, but convicted them on lesser charges of passport fraud.

He sentenced them to prison terms for travelling on false documents
but ordered them freed because of time served, after they paid
6,500 dollars (£3,600) each in fines. They were barred from leaving
the country pending an appeal by the Attorney General's office,
which reached its conclusion in court today.

Authorities argued the three had previous links to the IRA.
Monaghan and McCauley were convicted of possessing weapons or
explosives, and McCauley was wounded by police at an IRA weapons
dump 22 years ago.

The three-judge panel in Bogota today sentenced Monaghan and
McCauley to 17 1/2 years in jail and fined them the equivalent of
240,000 dollars (£133,000), while Connolly was given a 17-year
prison term and a fine of 210,000 dollars (£116,000).

"We're absolutely devastated at this result," said Senator Mary
White of Ireland's governing Fianna Fail party, who went to visit
the three men's families.

During the nine-month trial, the three were portrayed by
prosecutors as dangerous men who provided the FARC with the know-
how to carry out increasingly sophisticated attacks.

The trio maintained they had come "to get to know the people, the
natural beauty" of Colombia and to observe its now-defunct peace
process with the FARC.

They said they travelled on false passports because of alleged past
persecution for their involvement in the Irish peace process.

The case also increased tensions in Northern Ireland, with hard-
line Protestant leaders saying it showed the IRA continued to carry
out illegal activities despite a 1997 cease-fire.

The province's largest Protestant-backed party welcomed the

"On reflection the Colombian justice system has found these men
guilty and has punished them," said Ian Paisley Jr, justice
spokesman for the Democratic Unionists.


Marathon Saga Of 'The Colombia Three'

By Alan Erwin, PA

Three Irish republicans are facing jail in Colombia after a
marathon saga took an astonishing twist.

Their arrest rallied republicans across Ireland to the cause, but
it also piled huge strain on an already fragile peace process.

Here is a timetable of events surrounding the so-called Colombia


August – Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley are
arrested at Bogota Airport as they prepare to leave the country.
They are charged with training the Marxist FARC guerrillas in urban

September – The IRA issues a statement accusing others of "ill-
founded and mischievous speculation" as it tries to end speculation
that the trio are involved with the organisation.

October – With unionist confidence in Sinn Fein battered by the
arrests, Gerry Adams admits that Connolly worked for the party in



October – The Stormont power-sharing administration collapses amid
allegations of an IRA spy-ring inside the government. Unionists say
the suspicions, added to the sceptical view of the trio's work in
Colombia, had proved too much.



February – Amid frantic efforts by Caitriona Ruane, fronting the
Bring Them Home campaign, the three men's trial is adjourned after
they refuse to attend court, accusing the Colombian system of being

April – Irish diplomat Sheila Maguire, secretary of the embassy in
Mexico, gives evidence at the trial telling how she met Connolly in
Cuba on St Patrick's Day 2001.

July – As the hearing continues, the three men address the court to
deny the offences. McCauley declares: "I am not a member of the
IRA. I am not guilty of the charges laid out against me." Connolly
accuses the British authorities of "false and impossible leaks" at
the time of his arrest.



April – The three men are acquitted of the serious charge of
training terrorists, but found guilty of travelling on false
papers. While the Colombian attorney-general's office prepares an
appeal, they refuse to leave jail, fearing for their safety.

December – The prosecution's appeal is successful, leaving the men
facing up to 17 years behind bars. Campaigners in Belfast are


Q&A: The Colombia Connection

The arrest of three Irishmen in Colombia back in August 2001
sparked a major controversy in the Northern Ireland political

Their initial acquittal has now been overturned by a higher court
and they face sentences of more than 17 years.

BBC News explains the background to the case.

Q: What started all this off?

On 11 August 2001, authorities in the Colombian capital Bogota said
they had arrested three Irish men who had been in an area of the
country controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(Farc), marxist rebels waging an ongoing guerrilla war.

The three men were named as James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and
Martin McCauley.

The authorities accused them of being members of the IRA and of
training FARC fighters, something they denied.

The three men had been travelling on false passports. At first they
said they were eco-tourists but later added they were there to
study the Colombia peace process. The trial was delayed because of
security fears.

Q: What effect did this have in Northern Ireland?

While the IRA is long known to have nurtured international links
with paramilitary organisations including ETA in Spain and
Palestinian groups, the news came as a total surprise. While
security forces tried to assess what was going on, Sinn Fein denied
that the three men were working for the party.

The first question that people wanted answering was, if the men
were members of the IRA, what were they doing in Colombia?

And if they were there as members of the IRA, what implications did
this have for the peace process?

Q: How did unionists react?

With suspicion. They demanded answers from Sinn Fein at a time when
the peace process was deadlocked.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble had resigned as first minister
of the power-sharing assembly because the IRA had yet to start
decommissioning weapons.

He said the suspected Colombia connection did nothing to encourage
the unionist community to trust republicans.

Their mood worsened when it emerged that the three men did indeed
have republican links.

James Monaghan had escaped explosives charges in the 1970s but had
resurfaced in the 1980s as a member of the Sinn Fein executive.

Niall Connolly was described as Sinn Fein's Spanish-speaking Cuba
representative. Martin McCauley had been a party worker.

Q: What did the republicans say?

The IRA tried to end the matter with a statement on 19 September
2001, accusing others of "ill-founded and mischievous speculation".
It insisted that it had neither sent anyone to Colombia nor
interfered in its internal affairs.

However, as the parties found a way out of the deadlock in October,
Sinn Fein changed its position.

On the day before the IRA decommissioned weapons for the first
time, Gerry Adams admitted that Niall Connolly worked for the party
in Cuba, but he and other party leaders had not been aware of this

Q: What happened next?

The Colombia connection has not been an issue in Northern Ireland

An estimated 90% of cocaine and 65% of heroin sold in America comes
from Colombia. Washington blames "narco-terrorist" organisations,
led by Farc for this supply.

Senior figures in Washington said they were determined to
investigate the IRA's alleged involvement with Colombia's rebels, a
mood that hardened in the wake of September 11's war on terror.

The issue came to a head in March 2002 when a US Congressional
committee asked Gerry Adams to testify.

He declined, saying that he did not want to prejudice the
forthcoming trial of the three men.

For its part, the IRA issued another statement, underlining that it
had "not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will
not do so".

Q: How did the committee react?

The committee subsequently said that it believed that the IRA was
one of a number of groups who had visited Colombian rebels.

"It is likely that in the former Farc safe haven these terrorist
groups had been sharing techniques, honing their terrorism skills,
using illicit drug proceeds in payment".

Q: What happened when the case reached court?

In April this year, the three men were acquitted of the most
serious charge of training Marxist rebels in Colombia. They were
found guilty of travelling on false passports and paid a fine.

The judge ordered them to remain in the country while the Colombian
Attorney General appealed their acquittal.

This appeal was successful and the men now face sentences of 17

It is understood there is one final step in the legal process open
to the men, an extraordinary appeal to the Supreme Court.

The earliest that any appeal can be lodged is mid-January.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/12/16 18:32:42 GMT


Monthly Table of Contents 12/04

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