Three Who Fled Colombia for Ireland Prompt Dispute
The three men linked to the Irish Republican Army who recently went into hiding in Ireland helped advance the weaponry and bombing techniques of leftist rebels in Colombia and should be extradited to the South American nation, Colombia’s vice president declared Thursday.
The three Irishmen fled Colombia and recently arrived in Ireland. One of the men announced their return on national television last week.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Aug. 13, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Fugitive Irishmen -- A photo caption in Friday’s Section A referred to Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley preparing to serve their prison terms in Colombia in 2001. The photo showed them being booked into jail after their arrests.
“These improvements in explosives by the FARC did not come from an Al Qaeda or anarchist website,” Vice President Francisco Santos wrote in the Irish Times, referring to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “They came from the direct training of people like James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley.
“Hundreds of Colombians have met their deaths at the hands of the FARC and their new, ‘improved’ unconventional explosives and tactics,” he wrote in an editorial.
Monaghan, Connolly and McCauley were arrested in Colombia in 2001 and served three years in prison for traveling with falsified passports. A court later acquitted them of additional charges that they had trained FARC rebels, but last December the men were convicted following a government appeal of that decision, as allowed under Colombian law. The men had been on the run in Latin America ever since.
Ireland’s international standing has been tarnished by the return of the “Colombia Three,” Irish opposition leaders have said. The government and Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political ally, have denied suspicions that the trio’s return was allowed in exchange for the IRA’s vow last month to disarm. The White House said it expected the IRA to end its contacts with terrorists around the world after that promise.
Protestant and moderate Catholic politicians in Northern Ireland say the three men’s decision to return and hide in Ireland, possibly with the help of republican allies, has harmed the Northern Ireland peace process.
“They were clearly up to no good and not for the first time their reckless actions and Sinn Fein’s coverup have damaged the peace process and made it harder to get the Good Friday agreement up and running again,” said Pat Ramsey of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, Northern Ireland’s moderate Roman Catholic party, referring to the now-disrupted peace accord signed in 1998.
Enraged pro-British unionists have called for the men to be extradited to Colombia. Legal experts, however, said that was unlikely for several reasons: The legal maneuver used to convict the trio does not exist under Irish or British law, Colombia’s human rights record is widely criticized, and there is no extradition treaty between Ireland and the South American country.
Relations between the two nations have steadily worsened since the trio returned. Colombia announced this week that all Irish visitors now must apply for visas, making them the only European Union citizens required to do so.
Irish officials, hoping to ease diplomatic tensions, have said the men could serve their prison sentence in Ireland. Colombia might accept that resolution, Vice President Santos has said. A bill working its way through the Irish Parliament would allow citizens convicted abroad to serve their sentences in Ireland.
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney on Thursday called on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to aid the search for the men.
Harney has said she is “extraordinarily concerned” about how the men had returned because there are no direct flights between Colombia and Ireland and an international warrant for their arrest had been issued. The men would have broken Irish law if they traveled with fraudulent documents, she said.
Adams made a public statement last week welcoming the men back.
“It will be a great relief to the three men’s families and friends, and I would hope that they can now get on with their lives,” Adams said.
The men, who have denied aiding the FARC rebels, have said they went to Colombia to observe the peace process there and go bird-watching.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has called for the trio’s extradition, saying they are connected to the U.S. fight against drug trafficking. Hyde’s committee is to examine the matter when it holds hearings this year on Colombia.