Chaos resumes at Colombian 'farce' trial
One of the key prosecution witnesses in the case against three
Irishmen accused of training Colombian rebels - a rebel informer
now working for the Colombian government - is finally due to
testify on Friday in Bogota after refusing to do so on Tuesday
because he said he feared for his life.
Rodriguez appeared in the Bogota court in a bulletproof vest
surrounded by almost a dozen armed guards.
He insisted that he and his son should be put in a
government-sponsored witness protection programme and said he
would not testify until this happened.
The judge said both should receive protective measures and said
he could testify on Friday.
The refusal of Mr Rodriguez to testify was the latest delay in
the case, which has dragged on for 18 months. A defence lawyer,
Mr Pedro Mahecha, said: "This is another delay with another
A second rebel deserter had previously been given permission by
the judge to give evidence in writing in the northern city of
Medellin, because the authorities there could not afford to
transport him to Bogota. This ruling is being challenged by the
The flight is usually less than Euro150, according to Jose Luis
Velasco, a lawyer for the three.
The men face charges which could carry a sentence of up to 24
years. The three are in Combita prison, outside Bogota, and did
not appear in court.
While awaiting Rodrigeuz's testimony, prosecutors have continued
with their case by putting the Colombian army captain who
arrested the three men on the stand.
Captain Huber Pulido said an anonymous informant began calling
him in May 2001, saying there were was a group of foreigners,
possibly Irishmen, staying in the rebel stronghold and training
the rebels there.
The calls continued until August 2001, when the caller, who was
never identified, said the men were headed to Bogota, where they
were arrested on charges of travelling on false documentation.
HILL DENIED VISA
There was a dispute at the entrance to the courtroom when some
international observers and campaigners for the three accused men
refused to be searched by security officers from the Colombian
prison service and insisted, successfully, that the search be
conducted by police.
But the delegation of observers travelling to keep a close eye on
proceedings was one member short.
Human rights activist and former miscarriage of justice victim
Paul Hill, who had his passport ripped apart in front of him by a
Colombian immigration official on his previous visit as an
observer in December, did not travel because the Colombian
authorities delayed issuing his visa. The Colombians asserted
that the application had been made late, a claim strenuously
denied by Hill, who remarked that on his previous visit, "they
made it abundantly clear they didn't want me there".
In addition, during the trial one of the Colombian newspapers
wrote an article saying that Paul Hill was a "terrorist who had
spent many years in jail".
"This is a disgrace," said Bring Them Home campaign spokesperson
Caitriona Ruane. "It is obvious that they do not want Paul Hill
to attend the trial. During his last visit here, his presence had
an enormous impact. As a victim of a miscarriage of justice he
epitomised what could happen to these three Irish citizens."
The delegation to Colombia includes parliamentarians Sean Crowe
TD (Sinn Fein) and Senator Mary White (Fianna Fail). They are
joined by Irish lawyers Pat Daly and Ronan Munro; Australian
lawyer Shaun Kerrigan and Steve McCabe and Natalie Kabaskalian,
lawyers from New York. Human rights activist Paul Hill (Guildford
4) will also join the delegation. Caitriona Ruane, Bring Them
Home spokesperson will be accompanying the delegation to
They will spend a week in Colombia and and expect to meet with
senior members of the Colombian Government, the judge, the
prosecution, the defence, the United Nations High Commission for
Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross and
the Ombudsman's office. They will also be visiting Niall
Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan, who are in Combita
Penitentiary, three hours drive outside Bogota.
CONCERN FOR PRISONERS
Speaking about his second visit to Colombia, Sinn Fein TD Sean
"Last December I spent seven days in Colombia observing the
trial. From the first day it was obvious that the proceedings
were descending into farce and the likelihood of the men getting
a fair trial was quickly disappearing.
"Given the nature of proceedings to date, there is no possibility
that the men are going to receive a fair trial."
Ruane visited the three Irishmen on Sunday in Combita High
Security Penitentiary, two and a half hours drive from Bogota.
Under Colombian law, penitentiaries hold sentenced prisoners and
jails are where remand prisoners are held. Despite assurances
from senior Colombian ministers that the men would not be moved
outside Bogota, they were moved just before Christmas. Their
lawyers are appealing to the case judge to get the men moved back
Caitriona Ruane said: "It is a very high security jail, the road
from Bogota to Colombia is highly militarised with tanks,
soldiers and police. When we arrived at the jail we were told we
would not get in. There was also an attempt to carry out a strip
search on me. I informed the authorities that I would not submit
to it and requested to see the Director. We had a meeting with
the Vice director of the penitentiary and eventually got in to
see the men for 30 minutes, with an agreement that I would not be
strip searched. We also informed the Vice Director that we expect
that international observers will not be strip searched."
"This penitentiary is for sentenced prisoners, it is a very harsh
regime. The three men conveyed to me that they feel very unsafe
there. They are currently on a wing with right wing
paramilitaries. They do not have the conditions to prepare for
their trial. They have no books, there are no classes that they
can enrol in. They are being denied sufficient phone cards to
keep in contact with their families, lawyers and human rights
"The international observers will be visiting the three men
during the week to see their conditions - most Embassies advise
their citizens not to travel outside Bogota. It is hard to
understand why the Colombian authorities took the decision to
move the men. It would appear to me that it is vindictive and
designed to hinder their preparations for their trial and isolate
"Agustin Jimenez, lawyer and president of the foundation
representing the men, and myself have informed the Irish
government about the danger to the lives of the three men.
Minister Brian Cowen has written to his counterpart in Colombia
requesting that the men be moved back to Bogota."
SENATOR URGES INTERVENTION
Yesterday, a Fianna Fail parliamentarian has called on the
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, to raise issues connected
with the trial of the three Irishmen held in Colombia directly
with the authorities in Bogota.
Senator Mary White, who is attending the trial as an observer,
said Mr Cowen should enter into dialogue with his Colombian
counterpart or the Colombian President, adding "I don't want him
to ring him up, I want him to sit down face-to-face." He should
do so, even if it meant travelling to Bogota in person: "Let him,
what's the big deal about that?" She said the Minister should
raise the issue of comments made by a former Colombian president,
Mr Andres Pastrana, and the head of the country's armed forces,
Gen Fernando Tapias, who linked the men to the IRA.
While praising the work of Irish diplomats, she said the issues
had to be raised at a political level. Commenting on the prison
conditions, she said: "The men are lucky to be alive today."
added: "The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, has to
take immediate action." Ex-president Pastrana and Gen Tapias
should not have made such comments and had done so "to please the
She wanted Mr Cowen to give leadership and "to take on the
Foreign Minister and let them know that our Government are
totally displeased at Pastrana's and Gen Tapias's prejudicial
comments; in any system in the world you are innocent until
proven guilty ". She had raised the comments with the judge
yesterday and he told her they should not have been made but
would not interfere with his conduct of the trial.
She had been told that Mr Cowen met the Colombian Foreign
Minister during a visit to the UN but this was not enough: "He
has to have dialogue himself, one-to-one, not on the periphery of
some meeting in the UN." She added: "There are three men's lives
at stake." The senator was speaking after a meeting between Judge
Acosta and the group observing the trial. She had asked the judge
to ensure there would be an interpreter in the court when the
trial resumed today as the absence of translation facilities on
Wednesday had put international observers like herself at a