Belfast Telegraph

Colombia Three 'are on the run'
Men thought to have fled country

By Mary Fitzgerald and Noel McAdam
17 December 2004

Three Irish republicans convicted of training Farc rebels in Colombia were believed to be on the run today amid warnings the controversy could have implications for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Lurgan man Martin McCauley, James Monaghan, from Donegal, and Niall Connolly, from Dublin, are suspected of fleeing the country where they face 17 years in prison after an appeals judge overturned a ruling which last April acquitted them of charges of training Farc guerrillas in bombmaking techniques.

Interpol has been called in as Colombian authorities step up their search for the three men, it has been reported.

After the prosecution successfully appealed against the decision yesterday, a court in Bogota issued warrants for their arrest.

The trio had been in hiding since their release from the city's La Modelo prison in June.

Reports from Colombia suggested that the men had left Colombia following yesterday's decision but their supporters dismissed such claims.

Caitriona Ruane, the Sinn Fein MLA, who has headed the Bring Them Home campaign, said reports that the men had fled had originated from the Colombian attorney general's office.

"I wouldn't trust anything that comes out of that office," she said, vowing to launch an international fight against yesterday's ruling.

"This should never have happened, this is a political decision that we were not expecting. It is scandalous," she said.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams also voiced outrage at the outcome.

He said: "This is a grievous miscarriage of justice which will come as no great surprise given the record of human rights abuses by the Colombian government."

Unionist politicians, however, welcomed the ruling. The DUP said the Government should consider moving ahead to restore devolution without Sinn Fein as a result.

Assembly member Ian Paisley Jnr said: "This vindicates the hardline stance we have been taking all along and the Government would be justified now in allowing the train to leave the station without Sinn Fein."

He also called on the Irish and American governments to give commitments the men will be returned to Colombia or jailed if they turn up in their jurisdictions.

So far lawyers for the men have refused to comment on the decision, saying they wish to study all the details before taking action.

It is understood, however, that supporters are considering launching an appeal to the country's Supreme Court. Such an appeal could take years.

Campaigners will make arrangements in the next few days to fly out to South America.

Ms Ruane has also contacted the Irish government, calling for high-level intervention.

The three men, all well-known republicans, were arrested in August 2001 at Bogota International Airport and detained on suspicion of teaching Farc rebels combat techniques and travelling with false documentation.

The arrests sparked off a huge political storm in Northern Ireland and threatened to derail the peace process.

Although charges of IRA membership were dropped, the three men were found guilty of travelling on false passports.

They strenuously denied allegations that they were training Farc guerrillas, claiming instead they were in the region to observe the Colombian peace process.

Although the most damning charges were lifted in April, Judge Jaime Acosta ordered the trio to stay in the country until an appeal by the prosecution was heard.

After their release the three men immediately went into hiding, claiming they were targets for right-wing paramilitaries.

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