Flash: '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
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
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
Mr Monaghan did not consider himself to be "on the run" from
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
"The Irish government are unlikely to send them back as this
move is likely to be part of the latest concession choreography
"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
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
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."