Flash: Colombia 3 to come home
Three Irishmen who have spent almost four years in a Colombia
jail were cleared today training Colombian rebels and are to be
deported from the country.
Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley were found
guilty of travelling on false passports but were found not
guilty of training the left-wing FARC movement.
The men, who have been in custody since they were detained in
August 2001, are now to be expelled from the country once each
pays about $5,000.
The men were arrested at Bogota airport amid a blaze of
prejudicial news coverage and disinformation inspired by the
Colombian, British and U.S. governments.
The three have now received extraordinary sentences of between 26 to
44 months on the 'false passport' charge, which normally
requires deportation. They were cleared on the more serious
charge of training guerrillas, for which they faced to 20 years
Court official Emilia Montanez announced the verdict at a press
conference in Bogota today.
Monaghan, from County Donegal, received a 44-month sentence,
McCauley, from County Armagh, got 36 months and Dubliner
Connolly, Sinn Fein's representative in Cuba, 26 months.
The differing and lengthy sentences for the minor charge appear
politically inspired and gratuitous, as the three have already
served 44 months behind bars in Colombia.
Human rights activist Caitriona Ruane, who headed the 'Bring
Them Home' campaign to have the men freed, said: "We are
absolutely delighted by this decision.
"We have obvious concerns now about the men's safety and are
seeking an urgent meeting with President Aribe to ensure their
safe passage back to Ireland."
After testimony of Colombian Army informers was firmly
repudiated at the trial, and forensic evidence was discredited,
the long-delayed and lengthy trial of the men all but collapsed.
However, the claims that the IRA was involved in international
terrorism caused considerable damaage to the peace process at
the time, and helped to collapse the political institutions in
the North of Ireland. Republicans accused the RUC police (now
PSNI) and 'securocrats' of using the men as political pawns to
undermine opposition to British rule.
Their arrests made world headlines and was also used by U.S.
militarists to increase that nation's funding for the right-wing
Colombian government and its efforts to defeat the rebels. The
arrest placed immense pressure on Sinn Fein in Washington, where the
party's fund-raising was threatened.
For almost four years, the men have faced daily death threats
from right-wing paramilitaries linked to government forces,
including armed inmates in jails where they have been held.
Supporters of the men are now trying to arrange an international
escort for the men out of the country.