Outcry over Colombia Three ruling

Supporters of three Irish republicans facing 17 years in a Colombian jail are planning a desperate new strategy today to win their release.

Supporters of three Irish republicans facing 17 years in a Colombian jail are planning a desperate new strategy today to win their release.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan had been cleared of an IRA plot to train Marxist rebels in the region.

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

In Belfast, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams expressed 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.”

Lawyers and campaigners for the men will now consider launching an extraordinary appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.

Caitriona Ruane, the Sinn Féin MLA who has fronted the Bring Them Home project, vowed to launch an international fight against yesterday’s ruling.

She said: “This should never have happened, this is a political decision that we were not expecting.”

Ms Ruane has contacted the Irish government, urging high-level officials to intervene.

United Nations representatives in Colombia have also been alerted and the campaign team will make arrangements in the next few days to fly out to South America.

McCauley, 41, from Lurgan in Co Armagh, Monaghan, 58, from Co Donegal and 38-year-old Dubliner Connolly were arrested in August 2001 at Bogota International Airport.

They were detained as they were about to board a flight out of the country on suspicion of teaching Farc guerrillas bomb-making techniques.

Their capture came at a critical time in the Northern Ireland peace process and damaged relationships between unionists and republicans as they attempted to run a power-sharing administration at the Stormont parliament.

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

They emphatically denied allegations that they were teaching rebel forces how to run an urban terrorism campaign. Instead, they claimed to be in the region as eco-tourists and to monitor the peace process there.

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

After their release from prison the three Irishmen immediately went into hiding, claiming they were targets for right-wing assassination squads.

Back in Ireland the anger and shock among their families and supporters contrasted with unionist backing for the sentence.

Ian Paisley jnr, a DUP Assembly man, said: “I believe the representation I made directly to the Colombian authorities has not been in vain.

“On reflection the Colombian justice system has found these men guilty and has punished them.”

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