Let Colombia Three live in peace - campaigners

The three men convicted of training rebels in Colombia should be allowed to live in peace after completing garda interviews, it was claimed tonight.

The three men convicted of training rebels in Colombia should be allowed to live in peace after completing garda interviews, it was claimed tonight.

The Bring Them Home campaign group said James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly had voluntarily come forward and were not on the run from the authorities.

Niall Connolly was arrested on a charge of obtaining a false passport, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years if convicted, after handing himself into gardaí. He was being held at Harcourt Terrace Garda Station.

James Monaghan and Martin McCauley are speaking to officers voluntarily at Kilmainham and Terenure stations respectively.

“Their wish now is to be allowed the time and space to get on with their lives and live in peace with their families here in Ireland,” Bring Them Home spokeswoman Caitriona Ruane said.

“I think now we need to wait and see what happens over the next couple of hours.”

The whereabouts of the three men, who were convicted in their absence of training rebels in Colombia, has been unknown since one of them appeared on Irish television on August 5.

A garda spokesman said officers will be consulting with the Chief State Solicitor to decide on their course of action after the interviews were concluded.

It is understood the men were accompanied to the police stations by representatives of the Dublin-based legal firm, Garrett Sheehan and Company.

According to a senior Garda source, the three men are being questioned by members of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Special Detective Unit.

The source said detectives had been in continuing contact with the men’s legal representatives since their arrival back in Ireland.

The men were first arrested four years ago and were initially acquitted of charges of training FARC rebels but were sentenced to 17 years in jail last December following an appeal by Colombia’s state prosecutor.

Ms Ruane said there was no way the men could be charged by the Irish authorities in connection with the case or returned to Colombia to serve their sentence.

“They were acquitted at the open public trial but they were convicted by judges in a secret court behind closed doors. These men should be left in peace, they have served their time for false documentation and I think anything further now would be unwarranted,” she said.

The men’s re-appearance has plunged the Northern Ireland peace process into serious difficulties and soured diplomatic relations with the UK, United States and Colombia.

The Colombian government has demanded the return of the three men but the Irish Government has said that no extradition treaty exists between the two states, and any possible return is a matter for the courts.

The Irish Department of Justice said tonight that no formal extradition request had yet been received from the Colombian authorities.

The Colombian Government has not yet made any official comment.

The Democratic Unionist Party said the Colombia Three had thrown down the gauntlet to the Irish Government and the authorities will be judged on how they react.

DUP Assembly member Ian Paisley said the Irish Government had only one choice - arrest the men and send them back to Colombia where they face 17 years in jail.

“The Republic has a choice. Does it want to be regarded as a place for terrorist fugitives to hide, or does it want to stand shoulder to shoulder with those democratic countries who oppose terrorism?

“The choice is the most important that the Republic will make and it will be judged by its actions.”

The Ulster Unionist Party said the Irish Government had a moral and legal obligation to send the men back to Colombia.

“The authorities in the Republic now know the whereabouts of these individuals and must move swiftly to facilitate their extradition to Colombia or stand accused of harbouring international terrorists,” said its leader Sir Reg Empey.

Sinn Féin, which has supported the Bring Them Home campaign, insisted the men should be left in peace.

“Sinn Féin is of the firm view that these men have no case whatsoever to answer and that they should be allowed to get on with the process of rebuilding their lives,” said Justice spokesman Aengus O Snodaigh.

The three men were arrested at Bogota’s El Dorado Airport in August 2001 as they boarded an international flight.

The second of the three left a Dublin garda station tonight after being questioned by gardaí, to which he had volunteered.

Martin McCauley, one of the Colombia Three, made no comment as he left Kilmainham Garda Station.

Earlier James Monaghan left Terenure Garda Station, making no comment to the media as he was driven away by a legal representative.

The third man, Niall Connolly, is still being questioned at Harcourt Terrace Garda Station after he was earlier arrested on a charge of obtaining a false passport.

The whereabouts of the three men, who were convicted in their absence of training rebels in Colombia, has been unknown since Mr Monaghan appeared on Irish television on August 5.

A garda spokesman said officers would be consulting with the Chief State Solicitor to decide on their course of action after the interviews were concluded.

It is understood the men were accompanied to the police stations by representatives of the Dublin-based legal firm Garrett Sheehan and Company.

More in this section