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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
IRA suspects moved to danger prison
Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley arriving at prison
The three suspects are likely to need protection inside the jail
Three suspected IRA men arrested in Colombia have been transferred to La Modelo, the country's most dangerous prison,said a spokesman for the state prisons agency.

The three Irishmen have now been formally charged with using false passports to enter the country and for training Marxist guerrillas of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in illegal activities.


If they are moved to that place, they are condemned to death

Defence lawyer
Lawyers for the men, Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, had been fighting the transfer saying that they could be in danger at the prison, where violent deaths are common.

The three men are being held without bail and the authorities have up to eight months to initiate court proceedings and present evidence against them.

The trio have been held at a military base since 11 August.

Remaining calm

They were reported to have been calm as, carrying their belongings in bags, they quietly boarded a military truck to travel to La Modelo.

In July the infamous prison was the scene of a full-scale battle between guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries allied with drugs traffickers.


The Irishmen were here to discuss international relations

Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda
FARC leader

Ten inmates died and 22 others were injured as the two sides battled it out with grenades and automatic weapons.

One lawyer acting for the men said: "if they are moved to that place, they are condemned to death."

But defence lawyer Ernesto Amezquita said that he intended to ask the authorities for "special protection for these people to ensure guarantees for their lives, safety and integrity."

Sources within the prison have said the FARC guerrillas are likely to give their protection to the three Irishmen.

Admission

Mr Amezquita, told the BBC that the men had visited the FARC safe haven "as tourists", although they have reportedly confessed to the charge of travelling on false passports

IRA suspects moving to La Modelo prison
They were transferred under heavy guard

The legendary head of the FARC, Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda has backed this up in a statement saying that the men were there for an exchange of views, not terrorist training.

"Various parties and political movements from Europe and the United States have come to visit us. We have even had the president of the New York Stock Exchange and the Queen of Jordan ... The Irishmen were here to discuss international relations," he said.

Past visit

But there are indications that this is not the first time at least one of the suspected IRA men has been to Colombia.

Sources within the attorney-general's office have confirmed that a witness from the FARC safe haven had contacted authorities to say he had seen James Monaghan in the region in 1998, and that he had been training guerrillas then.

The witness has entered the attorney-general's witness protection programme, the source said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willis
"The men are alleged to have spent five weeks training terrorists"
See also:

16 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Colombian investigation continues
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Welcome to Farclandia
08 Feb 01 | Americas
New Colombia peace effort
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