Irish Independent

Ahern spurns Colombia 3 as Interpol joins the hunt

THE Government last night ruled out an amnesty for the Colombia Three and said they could not be included in the special peace deal being worked out for terrorists "on the run."

As an international hunt for the fugitive republicans was stepped up, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern called on them to return to Bogota to lodge a counter-appeal against their 17-year jail terms.

Arrest warrants for James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly are to be circulated among 182 countries through Interpol whose director in Colombia, Victor Cruz, accepted they were no longer in that country.

Mr Cruz said it was presumed the trio had crossed the border using false documents and Interpol was working closely with the Colombian justice system to issue the international warrants.

Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane, who heads the Bring Them Home campaign, last night indicated that the three were more likely to attempt to overturn the jail sentences through an international route rather than a Colombian court. Ms Ruane, who flies out to Bogota this morning to consult with the men's lawyers, told the Irish Independent: "I have lost total confidence in the Colombian legal system and this case is only the tip of the iceberg.

"The real question is why are three Irish citizens who were declared innocent after a 10-month trial are now in hiding to protect their lives."

She said that even their lawyers did not know the men's current whereabouts and she had not seen them since they came out of jail six and a half months ago.

"We turned down the offer of Colombian state protection because of their links with right wing groups and decided their best hope of staying alive until the outcome of the appeal was to go into hiding.

"Our legal options now include an appeal through the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which is the equivalent of the European Court of Human Rights or some mechanism involving the United Nations," she added.

While in Bogota Ms Ruane will seek a meeting with the Colombian president to outline her view that the jailing had been a political decision that was totally unacceptable.

Meanwhile, US officials in Washington said intelligence reports indicated the three had escaped by driving to Venezuela and then they possibly continued to Cuba where Connolly had been Sinn Fein's representative.

The Taoiseach and Tanaiste Mary Harney both urged the men to return to fight their case in the courts. Mr Ahern said the Government's role was consular but at a human level they could understood the feelings of the men's families.

Ms Harney said: "We don't want to cut across the judicial system in another country; our concern must be focused on humanitarian and human rights issues.

Mr Ahern and Ms Harney both said there was no reason why the controversy should create further problems for the peace process.

Tom Brady, Susan Garraty and Gene McKenna

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