Irish politicians and lawyers have arrived in Colombia to observe next week’s trial of three suspected IRA members charged with training left wing rebels.
TDs Sean Crowe and Finian McGrath and human rights activist Paul Hill were to meet with officials from the Colombian government, United Nations and human rights groups to discuss the trial of the three men, set to begin in the capital Bogota on Monday.
“I’m here to attempt to ensure that they receive a fair trial,” said Hill, who himself was cleared of murder charges in Ireland after spending 15 years in a British jail.
“But given what I know about the justice system in Colombia, it leaves a lot to be desired.”
James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley were arrested at Bogota’s airport 14 months ago after visiting a rebel stronghold in southern Colombia, where prosecutors claim they trained insurgents in explosives and other techniques for about a month.
The three insisted they were in Colombia to observe the peace process between former President Andres Pastrana and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Sinn Féin has acknowledged Connolly was its Latin American representative based in Cuba.
Monaghan is an IRA veteran convicted in 1971 for possessing explosives and conspiring to cause explosions. McCauley was wounded during a police raid at an IRA arms dump in 1982 and later was convicted of weapons possession.
The Irish delegation plans to visit the men in prison during the seven days they will be in Colombia.
“We have major concerns about the men’s safety in prison,” said McGrath, an independent TD. ”We’re here to express our support and assist the family and act as observers.”
Senator Mary White from Ireland’s Fianna Fail party was expected to arrive in Colombia on a later flight, said Caitriona Ruane, a representative of Bring Them Home, an Irish group working for the release of the three men.
Connolly, Monaghan and McCauley are also accused of using fake passports to enter Colombia. If convicted, each faces up to 20 years in prison.