Irish Independent

Return of Colombia Three could take five years

THE three Irishmen released from jail in Colombia may have to wait for up to five years for the appeals procedures to be completed.

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McAuley were last night enjoying freedom after 34 months behind bars.

In a secure location in Colombia, its location kept secret because of fears they might be the target of right wing death squads, the men were said to be "very disappointed" that they could not return home immediately.

Catriona Ruane of the Bring them Home campaign said: "We are calling on the Colombian Judicial system to expedite this case in the interests of natural justice."

The so-called Colombia three were arrested in August 2001 at Bogota airport after returning from a region controlled by the country's largest rebel group,the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia or Farc.

After a lengthy trial, Judge Jaime Acosta found them not guilty of the bomb training charges, but guilty of travelling on false passport. He sentenced them to time served and almost €6,000 each in fines.

The men were released from La Modelo prison in the Colombian capital at 5.30pm on Tuesday and whisked away to the secret location in two green off-roaders.

After reaching the property where they are staying the men ordered in chicken and chips and chatted to their supporters, who included Ms Ruane, her sister Therese and Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly.

According to one report, a private security firm has been hired to protect them.

A court document that authorised their release said they must stay in the country until the State's appeal of the not guilty verdicts is heard. According to legal experts, if the case reached the Supreme Court the process could take up to five years.

Ms Runae said last night: "We are very disappointed and surprised at the magistrates' decision not to allow them to go back to Ireland pending the appeal by the Colombian Attorney General.

"Colombia is not a secure environment for the men. The Judge's decision that the men were innocent of the serious charges should have been the end of the matter.

"We believe it is unjust that they have to remain in the country."

Frank Khan and Mark Duffy

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