'Keep pressure up' for Colombia Three: Campaigners

The Government must keep the pressure on Colombia’s President to respond within 10 days to its request that the case of three Irishmen be speeded up, campaigners insisted today.

The Government must keep the pressure on Colombia’s President to respond within 10 days to its request that the case of three Irishmen be speeded up, campaigners insisted today.

Caitriona Ruane, who spearheaded the Bring Them Back Home campaign for the prisoners, hailed as “very significant” talks last night between Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President Alvaro Uribe on the case.

Mr Ahern met President Uribe at a meeting during a summit of European Union and South American leaders in Mexico.

It is understood the Colombian President promised to raise with legal and constitutional authorities in Colombia about how the legal process could be speeded up.

Last month a Colombian judge last month acquitted Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley on charges of training Marxist FARC rebels.

However they have been ordered to remain in the country while Colombian prosecutors appeal the decision.

The three men were convicted of travelling to the country on false passports.

The Taoiseach also proposed the men should be allowed to return to their Ireland on the guarantee that they would fly back to Colombia once they were needed.

President Uribe also promised to respond to the Government’s proposals within a week to 10 days.

Ms Ruane, who is a Sinn Féin Assembly member, said it was vital President Uribe was held to his pledge to respond within 10 days.

The South Down MLA said: “I have talked to the men since last night’s meeting and also to their families.

“They are delighted that the Taoiseach and President Uribe have met.

“It is a very significant meeting and something we have been asking the Irish Government to seek for some time.

“President Uribe is a very powerful man in Colombia.

“I think what is clear to everybody including the Irish Government is that these men need to be brought home and I hope this meeting goes a long way to getting them back swiftly.”

Ms Ruane said the families of James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly had been through an emotional rollercoaster in recent weeks following the men’s acquittal of charges of training FARC rebels and the decision of the prosecutor to appeal.

She said the prisoners remained strong but were concerned for their own safety in a country with a volatile political climate.

The Sinn Féin MLA added: “The men realise this has now moved onto a different plain, with the Irish Government making a direct intervention.

“They understand the importance of the not guilty verdict. They are watching Colombia move to the right and have seen how others have been put away in prison for years.

“They know the importance of the international spotlight being shone on their case.

“What must now happen is the Irish Government must monitor very carefully the week to 10 days deadline the Colombian President has set himself.

“It is very important there is an urgent follow-up to this meeting. It is very clear the only way to guarantee these men’s lives is to get them home to Ireland.”

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