Columbia 3 must stay in Colombia until appeal

The Government was tonight urged to maintain pressure on the Colombian authorities for a speedy appeal hearing into the case of three Irishmen detained in the country.

The Government was tonight urged to maintain pressure on the Colombian authorities for a speedy appeal hearing into the case of three Irishmen detained in the country.

Supporters of the three men – Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly – made the plea after the Colombian authorities released the men from prison but refused to let them return to Dublin.

In April the three Irishmen were found guilty by a Colombian judge of travelling to the country on false passports. However, they were acquitted of training Marxists Farc rebels.

The men were released last night from La Modelo prison near the Colombian capital, Bogota, but have been told they must remain in the strife-torn South American country until an appeal into their case by prosecutors has been heard.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Caitriona Ruane, who spearheaded the “bring them back home” campaign, told PA News from Bogota they were disappointed.

“The situation is very unfair and unjust and I have to say we were very surprised at the decision.

“It is essential now, if the men cannot return to Ireland, that pressure is put on the authorities in Colombia to speed up the appeal process because we obviously have concerns for their safety.”

Last month Taoiseach Bertie Ahern urged Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to either let the men return to Ireland on condition that they would be prepared to fly back to Colombia once their appeal was heard or to speed up the legal process.

Last week Ms Ruane and fellow Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly had their hopes raised at a meeting with Colombian vice-president Francisco Santos that the men could return to Ireland.

However, magistrates decided that, while the three prisoners could be released, they must remain in Colombia until the appeal is heard.

It is understood that Mr Connolly, Mr McCauley and Mr Monaghan have been taken to a safe house in Colombia.

They were arrested in August 2001 and accused of training Farc rebels in bomb-making techniques.

Before being cleared of these charges the men denied they were there on behalf of the IRA, insisting they were in Colombia to study the political situation.

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