Colombia Three 'must be tried quickly'
16/06/2004 - 09:45:32

Three Irishmen freed from a Colombian jail should face a speedy retrial if they are forced to remain in the country, a former Irish foreign minister said today.

David Andrews, who visited Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley during their time in prison, said today he was surprised by reports from the Colombian capital, Bogota, that the men had been released overnight from La Modelo prison.

In April, the three men were found guilty by a Colombian judge of travelling to the country in 2001 on false passports.

They were acquitted of charges that they trained Marxist Farc rebels.

Colombian prosecutors are appealing the case.

The release of the prisoners came after Taoiseach Bertie Ahern lobbied Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe at a summit of EU and South American leaders in Mexico last month either to speed up the appeal or let the prisoners return to Ireland on condition that they would return for the case.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman confirmed in Dublin today that the prisoners were released last night on condition that they remain in the country.

She said: “It is a matter for Colombian officials to decide if the three men can return home.

“They left prison at about midnight (Irish time) last night. That option was always available to them.

“They have gone to an undisclosed location. The legal position is that they must remain in the country until an appeal has been heard unless magistrates decide otherwise.”

Witnesses saw two green off-roaders leave La Modelo prison last night.

Sinn Féin Assembly members Gerry Kelly and Caitriona Ruane have been in Colombia for the past week, lobbying for the three prisoners’ return home.

Mr Andrews said today: “It appears to me that if they are released that they should have an expeditious trial if they are to be tried based on the magistrate’s view that they should not be out of the country.”

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