Govt urged to battle for Colombia trio

The Government was urged today to stand up and fight for the return home of three Irishmen forced into hiding in Colombia after being cleared of terrorism charges.

The Government was urged today to stand up and fight for the return home of three Irishmen forced into hiding in Colombia after being cleared of terrorism charges.

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley left Bogota’s La Modelo prison two weeks ago but must stay in the country pending an appeal.

Caitríona Ruane, the trio’s spokeswoman, said the men had left prison for their own safety but that the Government should be doing more to ensure their safe return home.

“Of course the Irish Government can do more. These men should be at home and it is wrong what is happening to them.

“The Irish Government should be standing up and fighting for the rights of these men.”

The trio were convicted on a charge of carrying fake passports and paid fines allowing them to taste freedom for the first time in almost three years.

They were arrested in August 2001 in Bogota’s airport after returning from a region controlled by the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

After a lengthy trial, Judge Jaime Acosta found the trio innocent in April of charges of training the Marxist rebels in bomb making, but guilty of travelling on false passports.

He sentenced them to time served and fined them €6,500 apiece.

The men are now in hiding in the country for fear right wing Colombian death squads will attempt to murder them.

Ms Ruane said there was growing concern around Ireland that the Government was not doing enough to address the issue with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

“During the last three years they (the Government) have intervened once with him (Mr Uribe) and that was a couple of weeks ago.

“What people are saying to me throughout this country is that if these three men were from France, or Germany or England that they would be home by now.”

Ms Ruane also dismissed claims the trio had hired private armed security to guarantee their safety in Colombia.

She added the men were forced to make a clear cut decision not to avail of Colombian state security as they did not trust it and so far they had no reason to believe it would guarantee their safety.

Ms Ruane said it obvious over two years ago that there was no evidence against the men and claimed that the legal process was flawed.

While efforts made by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at a EU/South American summit meeting in Mexico in May were welcomed, Ms Ruane said she would demand more action at a meeting with Government officials later this week.

The trio claim they travelled to Colombia to study the peace process between the FARC and the government, which collapsed in February 2002, and that they had used false passports fearing they would have difficulty travelling under their real names because of IRA links.

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