A unionist leader in the North invited Colombian terror victims to visit Ireland to lobby for the extradition of three IRA-linked men convicted of training Marxist rebels in bomb-making techniques.
Democratic Unionist Party MP Jeffrey Donaldson made the comments during a trip to Colombia in which he inspected rebel mortars and other explosive devices that he said were identical to weapons used by the IRA.
“It’s absolutely clear that the IRA has been involved” in training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, he said at a Colombian military base where commanders showed him an array of FARC weaponry.
Donaldson is in Colombia as part of a campaign to push the Irish government to extradite James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly to the South American country to serve out a 17-year prison sentence for teaching FARC how to make sophisticated cylinder bombs.
The trio, who returned to Ireland after skipping bail eight months ago while awaiting an appeal, insisted they were in Colombia only to observe the country’s now-defunct peace process.
The three men were arrested in August 2001 while trying to leave Colombia after spending five weeks in jungles controlled by the FARC, the major rebel group trying to topple the country’s US-backed government.
British anti-terrorist police have identified Monaghan as the IRA’s senior weapons engineer and McCauley as one of his deputies.
Donaldson, who was accompanied on the trip to Bogota by representatives from the Northern Ireland Protestant victims’ group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, said that as a result of the IRA training many Colombian soldiers had been maimed or killed.
“We want to show solidarity with the victims of FARC terrorism,” he said. “We believe it will put pressure on the Irish government for the soldiers to come to Belfast and Dublin to tell their stories.”
Donaldson later held talks with Colombian vice president Francisco Santos.
Irish officials have pledged to explore ways in which Ireland could hand over the three men despite the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries. Colombia has raised the possibility that the three men serve their prison terms in Ireland.