The three Irishmen facing severe jail terms for training terrorists in Colombia should hand themselves in, Tánaiste Mary Harney claimed today.
Tánaiste Harney urged the on-the-run trio to take their fight for freedom to the country’s courts.
IRA linked-Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan are suspected of fleeing the region after being hit with prison sentences of 17 years for training Marxist FARC rebels.
“We don’t want to cut across the judicial system in another country, our concern must be one of humanitarian concern, human rights issues,” she said.
“I think they should obviously exhaust all of the legal procedures in Colombia and that is something that I would strongly advise.”
Ms Harney said she was not in a position to comment on whether or not the men had a fair trial.
Interpol has been called in as the hunt for the men intensifies, reports have suggested. There is no extradition treaty between Ireland and the Latin American state.
Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs, has said the issue could be raised with Colombian government officials if the men handed themselves in to authorities and remained in jail following a high level appeal.
Ms Harney said the Government’s main concern was to ensure the men’s human rights were protected and to look into any claims of humanitarian abuses.
“Travelling on a false passport is always a serious offence but the Irish government have always been concerned to ensure that every Irish citizen is subjected to a fair trial and that human rights and humanitarian issues are properly protected and that remains our concern,” she said.
The trio had been acquitted of an IRA plot to train Marxist rebels in the region. But after the prosecution successfully appealed against the decision, a court in Bogota issued warrants for their arrest, and lawyers and campaigners for the men are considering an extraordinary appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
McCauley, aged 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 on suspicion of teaching FARC guerrillas bomb-making techniques as they were about to board a flight out of the country.
“Clearly the Colombian authorities take this matter very seriously and I can understand that,” Ms Harney said.
“Our concern as a government has always been to ensure that there are fair procedures and obviously we want to see the men appeal their sentence in Colombia. They have the right to do that, to go to the highest levels and I would strongly encourage them to do that.”