Flash: Authorities permit return of Colombia 3
The three Irishmen acquitted of training Colombian rebels should
be allowed to go home while the Colombian state pursues an
appeal, the government said today.
The Colombian state prosecutor lodged an appeal after the three
were cleared of charged which could have seen them receive
sentences of up to 20 years.
International pressure ensured a fair trial in which forensic and
eye-witness evidence against them were entirely disproven, but
the men have already spent some three years behind bars in
difficult and dangerous conditions.
Supporters of the men met with the Colombian Vice-President
Santos this evening, when they received the good news.
Vice President Francisco Santos said the Colombian government
presented the recommendation to the courts after an agreement
with Irish officials. But he warned that Colombian judicial
authorities would ultimately make the decision.
"If the appeal is negative against them, they will return to
serve out their jail sentence here," Mr Santos told reporters,
outlining the agreement.
"This is a decision that will be made by the court ... There is a
separation of powers," Mr Santos added.
Lawyers for Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley have
pointed out that the men were in danger of assassination by
right-wing paramilitary death squads unless allowed to leave
The Irishmen are still in Bogota's Modelo jail, which remains
safer than freedom, pending payment of fines of about US$7,000
each for using false documentation.
Judge Jairo Acosta, who cleared them of the main bomb charge in
April, later ruled that the men had to stay in Colombia until the
appeals process ran its course.
If the case reaches the Supreme Court, legal experts said it
could take as long as five more years.
Ms. Ruane of the 'Bring them Home' campaign welcomed the
announcement. She said the Irish government had given
guarantees to the Colombian government that it would adhere to
Colombian laws. The men's lawyers were now putting a petition
into the magistrates asking that the men be allowed to leave
Colombia and return to Ireland.
"We are asking them to adjudicate on this matter as quickly as
possible given the urgency of the situation."
Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly, who is in Colombia this
week as part of a Bring them Home delegation, said the statement
by th Colombia authorites was "very significant."
"Almost two weeks ago the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern called on the
Colombian President to intervene and we hope that this evening's
announcement will now open the way for the men to return home to
their families as quickly as possible.
"The men continue to be held in very dangerous conditions. It is
obvious that there is no safe place for them to stay in Colombia.
The men should be allowed home immediately."