Irish Republican News, August 5, 2005

'Colombia Three' return to Ireland

Three Irishmen who were victims of a miscarriage of justice in Colombia have returned to Ireland, according to reports.

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley have been missing since last December following their acquittal in Colombia on charges of training left-wing rebels in the country's civil war.

However, the acquittal was inexplicably reversed by a higgher court in a politically charged decision widely denounced by human rights observers.

In fear of their lives of retaliation by right-wing Colombian paramilitaries and facing up to 20 years behind bars, the men left the country.

Looking tanned and fit today, if tired, Mr Monaghan said his return was not related to any deal over last week's historic statement by the Provisional IRA, calling an end to its armed struggle.

Speaking to Irish television, Mr Monaghan said: "There hasn't been any deal of any sort. We returned as soon was we were able to return. I'm back in ireland only a few days."

The former political prisoner said he did not want to endanger anyone by revealing the manner of his return, but said "a lot of people in a lot of courties had to help us".

Mr Monaghan pointed out the Irish government had asked that the three be allowed to return pending an appeal against the conviction.

He again rejected accusations that the men had visited Colombia to become involved in the civil war, and blasted discredited forensic evidence presented by the prosecution at the original trial. He said that he had a continuing interest in the peace process as a member of the ex-prisoner's group, Coiste na n-Iarchimi.

Mr Monaghan did not consider himself to be "on the run" from the authorities, and was available to speak to Irish Garda police.

"I wouldn't be giving this interview if I was on the run. I'm back and I hope I wil be left in peace."

The issue of republicans still 'on the run' from prosecutions arising from the conflict in the North, has been a key subject of negotiations in recent years. Speculation has grown of an impending announcement terminating outstanding prosecutions, which would allow dozens of exiled republicans to return home.

The return has further fuelled unionist wrath following British moves this week to reduce its military presence in the North.

Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson tonight said the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern had to hand them back to the Colombian authorities.

"These three men were intricately involved in the global terrorist network," the East Belfast MP said.

"Mr Ahern must facilitate by whatever means necessary their swift extradition, even if that means new legislation.

"If he does not, unionists in Northern Ireland will believe him to be complicit.

"These men are on-the-run terrorists, convicted of terrorism in a Colombian court.

"They are in the Republic of Ireland and given that there is supposed to be a global battle against terrorism, Bertie Ahern knows what he has to do."

The Ulster Unionist Party, however, admitted that it was unlikely the three would be returned to Colombia.

Party negotiator Michael McGimpsey said it was "surely no coincidence" that the three returned following the IRA statement.

"The Irish government are unlikely to send them back as this move is likely to be part of the latest concession choreography to republicans.

"The Colombia Three are probably the first 'on the run' to be given a pardon. Once again, despicable political expediency is replacing common sense and due process."

A spokesman for the Irish Department of Justice said it was aware of reports the three men were back in Ireland, but was not yet prepared to comment on the situation.

A spokesman said no extradition treaty existed between Ireland and Colombia, but if they received a request for extradition it would be considered.

Fine Gael opposition party leader Enda Kenny demanded an immediate statement from the Irish Prime Minister and the Irish Minister for Justice on the circumstances surrounding the men`s return.

Mr Kenny also called on the Irish government to clarify whether their return was part of the negotiations between it and Sinn Fein in the run up to the recent IRA statement on its future intentions.

An Irish Government spokesman said tonight: "This issue was not part of the Government`s discussions with Sinn Fein and we had no prior knowledge of their return to Ireland."