COLOMBIA 3 VERDICT 'COULD TAKE MONTHS'
The trial of the three Irishmen accused of training guerillas in
Colombia has ended, with the verdict not expected for several months.
Judge Jairo Acosta, who will decide without a jury, warned last night
it could take him months to review evidence in the case.
"As the case has run long, the verdict would take months. But I still
haven't established an exact time yet," said Judge Acosta, who has
presided over the trial since it began late last year.
Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan made their first and
only public court appearance on Wednesday.
They vehemently protested their innocence, reasserting their position
that they had been in Colombia, like many other international visitors,
to observe the peace process. The men singled out the British and US
embassies in Bogota for special criticism, accusing them of spreading
misinformation about them from the outset.
The three men have been in custody for nearly two years. The trial
began on 4 October last and since it began it has stopped and started
A team of international observers comprising politicians, lawyers and
human rights activists travelled from three continents to observe the
trial. Some of the observers were subjected to police intimidation and
harassment during their visit to the country.
On Thursday, Jose Luis Velasco, lawyer for Martin McCauley began his
summing up by saying that the Colombian Military and political
establishment used the three Irish Citizens to get more US military
In one of a series of concluding statements by defence lawyers, Mr
Velasco referred to a claim that hardline unionist politician Peter
Robinson had given his 'expert advice' in a report presented by the
Colombian Military to the US Senate hearings in April 2002.
But it was pointed out by members of the congressional committee at the
time that Mr Robinson was an opponent of the Irish peace process.
At this point in yesterday's proceedings, Mr Velasco was interrupted by
the State Prosecutor, Mr Carlos Sanchez, who accused him of introducing
irrelevant material: "Peter Robinson, whoever he is, is not part
Mr Velasco responded by pointing out that the report by General Tapias,
including the views of Mr Robinson, had been submitted previously by
the prosecution in the case. Intelligence reports of this kind should
not be part of the trial process, he said.
Responding to a prosecution claim that no witnesses had been produced
to verify that the men were visiting Colombia to learn of the country's
peace process, Mr Velasco said a formal request had in fact been made
to go to the FARC zone in search of potential witnesses.
Despite the fact that this request had the support of the Irish
Government, it was turned down by the Colombian authorities.
Mr Velasco also exposed the contradictions of a "key prosecution
witness" who claimed that the men trained the FARC -- but each time
mentioned different dates and different types of training. The
prosecution also alleged that a video was made of this alleged
training, and that a contract had been found of an agreement between
the FARC and the men, but Mr Velasco pointed out that these had not
He quoted President Uribe who said in relation to another legal case
"It is better to be arbitrary than weak".
Mr. Velasco reiterated that there is no evidence against the men and
called for the acquittal of the three Irish citizens.
Another defence lawyer, Mr Pedro Mahecha, called on the judge, Dr Jairo
Acosta, to launch a criminal investigation of the prosecutor for
impugning the honesty of an Irish diplomat, Ms Sile Maguire.
Caitriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home Campaign said: "Niall Connolly,
Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan have taken the opportunity to give
their version of events and come to the court. We are calling on the
Colombian government to rein in their military now and to stop their
attempts to intimidate the judge. There is no evidence in this case,
the military know it, the prosecutor knows it, the Colombian government
knows it and the world knows it.
"The Colombian authorities should send these men home to their
families. The Irish government should be calling for the release of the
men. This is a farcical show trial."