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December 17, 2004

12/17/04 - Colombia 3 On The Run

Monthly Table of Contents 12/04

BT 12/17/04 Colombia Three 'Are On The Run' -A(2)
BT 12/17/04 Whatever Happened To The Colombia Three?
BT 12/17/04 Colombia Three Move May Hit Peace Talks


Caitriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home campaign and Charlie Bird,
Chief News Correspondent, discuss the options for the men - and the

Irish trio said to have fled Colombia - Former Foreign Minister
David Andrews says the men should exhaust the Colombian legal

Colombia Three 'Are On The Run' -A(2)

Men thought to have fled country

By Mary Fitzgerald and Noel McAdam
17 December 2004

Three Irish republicans convicted of training Farc rebels in
Colombia were believed to be on the run today amid warnings the
controversy could have implications for the Northern Ireland peace

Lurgan man Martin McCauley, James Monaghan, from Donegal, and Niall
Connolly, from Dublin, are suspected of fleeing the country where
they face 17 years in prison after an appeals judge overturned a
ruling which last April acquitted them of charges of training Farc
guerrillas in bombmaking techniques.

Interpol has been called in as Colombian authorities step up their
search for the three men, it has been reported.

After the prosecution successfully appealed against the decision
yesterday, a court in Bogota issued warrants for their arrest.

The trio had been in hiding since their release from the city's La
Modelo prison in June.

Reports from Colombia suggested that the men had left Colombia
following yesterday's decision but their supporters dismissed such

Colombian police have launched an international search for three
Irishmen who were convicted of training Marxist rebels in the South
American country, it was reported today.

"We know they left the country, but we will try to find out what
country has received them in order to see that justice is done,"
the Attorney genera, Luis Camilo Osorio, told Reuters. Interpol has
been called in as the hunt for the men intensifies, reports said.

"I believe it is possible (to capture the men) and that it is the
obligation of the international community to collaborate with us in
order to make that happen," Osorio said.

Caitriona Ruane, the Sinn Fein MLA, who has headed the Bring Them
Home campaign, said reports that the men had fled had originated
from the Colombian attorney general's office.

"I wouldn't trust anything that comes out of that office," she
said, vowing to launch an international fight against yesterday's

"This should never have happened, this is a political decision that
we were not expecting. It is scandalous," she said.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams also voiced outrage at the outcome.

He said: "This is a grievous miscarriage of justice which will come
as no great surprise given the record of human rights abuses by the
Colombian government."

Unionist politicians, however, welcomed the ruling. The DUP said
the Government should consider moving ahead to restore devolution
without Sinn Fein as a result.

Assembly member Ian Paisley Jnr said: "This vindicates the hardline
stance we have been taking all along and the Government would be
justified now in allowing the train to leave the station without
Sinn Fein."

He also called on the Irish and American governments to give
commitments the men will be returned to Colombia or jailed if they
turn up in their jurisdictions.

So far lawyers for the men have refused to comment on the decision,
saying they wish to study all the details before taking action.

It is understood, however, that supporters are considering
launching an appeal to the country's Supreme Court. Such an appeal
could take years.

Campaigners will make arrangements in the next few days to fly out
to South America.

Ms Ruane has also contacted the Irish government, calling for high-
level intervention.

The three men, all well-known republicans, were arrested in August
2001 at Bogota International Airport and detained on suspicion of
teaching Farc rebels combat techniques and travelling with false

The arrests sparked off a huge political storm in Northern Ireland
and threatened to derail the peace process.

Although charges of IRA membership were dropped, the three men were
found guilty of travelling on false passports.

They strenuously denied allegations that they were training Farc
guerrillas, claiming instead they were in the region to observe the
Colombian peace process.

Although the most damning charges were lifted in April, Judge Jaime
Acosta ordered the trio to stay in the country until an appeal by
the prosecution was heard.

After their release the three men immediately went into hiding,
claiming they were targets for right-wing paramilitaries.


Whatever Happened To The Colombia Three?

By Mary Fitzgerald
17 December 2004

They were last seen speeding through the gates of Colombia's
notorious La Modelo prison on a humid summer's evening last June.
Bundled into two green SUVs and flanked by police, the three men
left the sprawling jail where they had spent three years while
awaiting trial on charges of training Farc guerrillas and
travelling with false documentation.

Six months later only a handful of people know the whereabouts of
Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley.

After they were acquitted on the terrorism charges, the trio were
told they had to remain in the country until a court hears state
appeals of the verdicts.

Supporters, fearing the men would be attacked because of their
alleged ties to Farc, spirited them away to a secret hiding place
where they have remained since.

It's not difficult to go to ground in Colombia.

From the snowcapped Andean peaks of the mountainous west to the
dense rainforest of the interior and the rugged coastline regions,
the country offers endless possibilities for those wishing to slip
away and live anonymously.

Still, so fearful are the three men of detection that they have had
no contact with their lawyers or families.

Their supporters say only that they are 'with friends'.

It is understood they have hired private security guards, having
turned down an offer of protection from the Colombian authorities.

Caitriona Ruane, Sinn Fein Assembly member for South Down and
spokeswoman for the 'Bring Them Home' campaign, is one of the few
people who knows where the three men are hiding.

But she refuses to divulge any information about the trio's
location or well-being, arguing that even the vaguest details could
jeopardise their safety.

"All I can say is that they are in as safe a place as possible in a
country that is very unsafe," she said.

"They have had no contact with their lawyers and no contact with
their families, such are the dangers. What has guaranteed their
safety to date is the fact that their location is not known by
anyone in the Colombian government."

Back in Northern Ireland, interest in the case has dropped
considerably since the men's release.

In October, a call by Sinn Fein urging the Irish government to do
more about the trio's predicament merited just a couple of
sentences in the news briefs section of a Belfast newspaper.

It wasn't always like this.

At the time of their arrests three and a half years ago, the
ensuing political brouhaha ruffled feathers in Belfast, London,
Dublin and Washington and threatened to derail the peace process.

The three men had travelled to Colombia on passports identifying
them as Edward Joseph Campbell, John Joseph Kelly and David
Bracken, the latter curiously the name of the main character in
Frederick Forsyth's thriller, The Day of the Jackal.

But when the trio landed at Bogota's El Dorado airport in August
2001, flying in from a Farc-controlled enclave, the waiting
Colombian authorities knew exactly who they were.

Martin McCauley from Lurgan and his two companions, James Monaghan
from Donegal and Niall Connolly from Dublin, were well-known

Monaghan had been convicted in 1971 for possessing explosives and
conspiring to cause explosions.

McCauley was convicted in 1985 for possession of weapons while
Connolly, though the party at first denied it, was Sinn Fein's man
in Havana.

All three were arrested and charged with training Farc guerrillas
in combat techniques, including the use of explosives, car bombs
and home-made weapons. They were also charged with travelling on
false passports.

The charges sparked a huge political furore in Northern Ireland
and, post-9/11, turned a spotlight on the IRA's links, past and
present, with terrorist organisations across the globe. The debacle
even led to congressional hearings in Washington.

The trio initially claimed to be on holiday but later admitted they
had met with rebels, insisting their aim was to learn about the
Colombian peace process.

The trial, which eventually began in October 2002, was a protracted
affair, characterised by moments of high farce with difficulties in
locating prosecution witnesses, most of whom were Farc deserters.

During a preliminary hearing the three defendants refused to leave
their cells, claiming they would not get a fair trial. They later
relented and, though the trial ended in August 2003, verdicts were
not delivered until last April.

It was initially thought that the appeals hearing would start seven
or eight months after the men's release but, as the months drift
by, some observers in Colombia predict that it could stretch well
into next year or beyond.

"It's a shocking situation," said Ruane. "The whole thing is just
an indictment of the Colombian justice system. We could get word at
any time - it could be this week, it could be this month. I could
get a phone call in the next few minutes. That is how it has been
since April."

She is critical of the way the Irish government has dealt with the
case, dismissing as insufficient its softly softly approach
involving private representations to the Colombian authorities. "I
just feel that if these men were from any other country in Europe
they would be home now because the government wouldn't stand for
it. Our government need to be publicly standing up for these three
Irish citizens," she said.

"We appreciate the work they are doing behind the scenes but in a
case like this that just isn't enough."

But the extent of the Irish government's influence is limited,
given that the case is now at the appeals stage, a spokesman for
the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

"The decision now rests with the appeal court and the powers of the
executive are separate from the powers of the court just as they
are here," he explained, pointing out that an official from the
Irish embassy in Mexico last week met with Colombian authorities to
discuss the situation.

"We would hope for and want an early decision but we don't have
anything specific yet in terms of a time scale."

In the meantime, the trio's supporters fret about their safety,
fearing the men may become pawns in Colombia's byzantine civil war.

The conflict, now in its fifth decade, involves right-wing
militias, Farc rebels, another leftist group, the ELN, and
government forces, with many of the main players financed by drug

The 12,000-strong right-wing paramilitary group, the AUC, is chief
amongst the three men's worries. Though the AUC has not publicly
threatened the trio and recently took part in a high profile series
of decommissioning exercises, Ruane believes the men remain in

She claims their food was poisoned in jail and that AUC prisoners
threatened to kill the men once they were released, but she will
not comment on the period since they left the prison.

Whatever the men's fate, it is clear that the case of the three
gringos will ultimately prove a footnote in the history of
Colombia's bitter civil war.

The story has long faded from the country's news stands and, given
the alleged links with Farc, locals were largely unsympathetic from
the start.

But Caitriona Ruane is not about to give up just yet.

"If the appeals decision, when it comes, is a wrong decision, then
we're ready to take this to all the international courts and the
Colombians know that," she said.


Colombia Three Move May Hit Peace Talks

Sinn Fein outrage over ruling
By Noel McAdam
17 December 2004

The conviction of the Colombia Three has potential consequences for
the political process, the DUP warned today.

Assembly member Sammy Wilson said he hoped the Irish government
would stick to its refusal to intervene despite overtures from Sinn

"Republicans didn't think the Colombian courts were too bad when
they acquitted them but now the verdict has changed we see Sinn
Fein/IRA back in whingeing mode," he said.

And his colleague Ian Paisley jnr said the sentence of the three
Irishmen - Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly -
showed Sinn Fein was still psychologically a "war machine".

Their attack came amid speculation that the issue of the conviction
could become embroiled in the negotiations aimed at the restoration
of devolution in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams voiced anger and outrage over the
sentence but made no connection between it and the political talks.

"This is a grievous miscarriage of justice which will come as no
great surprise, given the record of Human Rights abuses by the
Colombian government," he said

As negotiations involving his party and Sinn Fein continued, Mr
Paisley said the 17-year sentence on appeal was "welcome indeed"
and reflected the serious nature of the activities they engaged in
while in Colombia.

The MLA, who said his letters to the Colombian Ambassador and
Colombian authorities had not been in vain, warned the "decision
has far wider ramifications than what's happening in the judicial
system in Colombia.

"Let's face it, Sinn Fein are psychologically still a war machine -
their activists are across the world engaging in war activities,
and I think that says an awful lot for the political process here,"
he said.

"The men's relationship with the anti-American drug distribution
network of FARC is of grave concern to all democrats through out
the world. Sinn Fein/IRA has yet to answer questions about the
exact nature of their trip to Colombia. These prisoners are
unlikely to benefit from any Belfast Agreement early release
scheme," he added.

Former Ulster Unionist Executive Minister Michael McGimpsey said
the severe sentence reflected the global impatience and had
vindicated his party's position.

Announcing the 'Bring Them Home' campaign will now be intensified,
spokesperson Catriona Ruane said: "This is a huge blow to the
families of these three men who never expected this decision.
Coming in the mouth of Christmas, it will be an especially
difficult for the eight children of the three men."

The Assembly member called on the Irish Government to intervene at
the highest level.

Monthly Table of Contents 12/04

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