Yahoo UK News


By Phil Stewart
Thursday June 10, 08:25 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Three Irishmen still jailed after being cleared of charges they trained Colombian rebels to build bombs should be allowed to go home, the government says.

Vice President Francisco Santos said the Colombian government recommended the men be allowed to return to Ireland if that country agreed to send them back to Colombia if the case was reversed.

But he warned that Colombian judicial authorities would ultimately make the decision.

"If the appeal is negative, against them (the Irishmen), they will return to serve out their jail sentence here," Santos told reporters on Thursday, outlining the agreement.

"This is a decision that will be made by the court ... There is a separation of powers," Santos added.

Lawyers for Jim Monaghan, Nial Connolly and Martin McCauley have argued the men were in danger of attack from right-wing paramilitary death squads unless allowed to leave Colombia.

The Irishmen are still in Bogota's Modelo jail, pending payment of fines of about $7,000 each for using false passports during their 2001 trip to a rebel stronghold.

Judge Jairo Acosta, who cleared them of the main bomb charge in April, later ruled that the men had to stay in Colombia until the appeals process ran its course.

If the case reaches the Supreme Court, legal experts said it could take as long as five more years.

"The Irish government has given guarantees to the Colombian government it will adhere to Colombian laws," said Caitriona Ruane, a Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who heads a support group for the men.

The attorney general's office accused them of being Irish Republican Army guerrillas hired to teach bomb-making to the 17,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a group known by its Spanish initials FARC.

Their acquittal was an embarrassment for the government, which seized on the trio's arrest as proof of the international reach of the FARC, branded a "narco-terrorist" organisation by the United States.

Monaghan, Connolly and McCauley deny any ties to the IRA, but admitted to meeting with members of the FARC and spending several weeks near a large guerrilla camp. They said they were there to learn about peace talks, which subsequently collapsed.

Connolly was once a Cuba representative of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally. McCauley was convicted in 1985 of weapons possession. Monaghan was once convicted for possessing explosives with intent.

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