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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
US warning on IRA suspects
Martin McCauley
Martin McCauley is led to prison by Colombian soldiers
The United States Government has said it will take a dim view of any collaboration between the IRA and Marxist rebels in Colombia.

It was reacting to the news that three IRA suspects have been moved from the military police barracks in Bogota, where they have been held since 11 August, to a local prison.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan have been charged with training Marxist rebels and carrying false passports in Colombia.

Two of the men are from the Republic of Ireland and one is from Northern Ireland.

Phillip Reeker of the US State Department said they were monitoring the situation closely.

Mr Reeker said: "No-one should be in any doubt that the United States would be greatly concerned about any assistance, information-sharing, training or collaboration with the FARC."

The trio accused of training rebels in Columbia, have been transferred to a high security prison in Bogota.

Transfer

They were transferred to the maximum security wing of La Modelo prison - which has the reputation of being the most violent in the country.

Their lawyers have objected to the transfer, saying their lives would be in danger.

The arrest of the trio has led to calls for Sinn Fein to be excluded from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Democratic Unionist Party has said it will table an exlusion motion against Sinn Fein from the power-sharing executive when the assembly returns from its summer recess.

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson: Will table exclusion motion

The DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, said the arrests "indicates that at no time has the republican movement been interested in moving to a democratic future".

Meanwhile, the family of Niall Connolly have said they are shocked at the decision to press charges.

The family have asked the Irish Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen, to ensure that the men's lives are protected in prison.

Colombia's public prosecutor's office said the men would be held at in prison while the state prepared its case against them.

'Wild allegations'

They are accused of training rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to make bombs and other weapons, which carries a 16-year sentence.

Speaking on Wednesday, the Connolly family said they had endured 10 days of false accusations, wild allegations and innuendo aimed at determining the three men's guilt without any proper legal process.

The family also said they were particularly concerned that the men remained in custody in a country where there were daily reports of political murders and riots in prisons.

Meanwhile, the SDLP's agriculture minister, Brid Rogers has urged Sinn Fein to come clean over the three men's role in Colombia.

Sinn Fein has repeatedly denied the trio are party members.


Republicans are engaged with drug-pushing Marxists in the jungles of South America

Sir Reg Empey MLA

However, the Ulster Unionist Party minister Sir Reg Empey said the government should take action.

The Colombian Attorney General's office said it had enough evidence to proceed with the charge of providing training for Marxist guerillas from forensic tests and with inconsistencies in the Irish men's stories.

'False passports'

Under the Colombian legal system, prosecutors have 240 days to prepare the case before going to trial.

The men have also been charged with carrying false passports, to which they have already confessed and could be sentenced almost immediately.

The trio were detained as they attempted to leave the country.

The army alleged the training was carried out over five weeks while the three were in a demilitarised area the government handed over to the FARC more than two years ago to launch peace talks.

The incident has embarrassed the Colombian Government, which is trying to show its peace talks with the FARC are making headway.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's James Kerr:
"The US Government has made its displeasure clear"
See also:

17 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Who are IRA suspects?
22 Aug 01 | Americas
'IRA' men in notorious prison
14 Aug 01 | World
The IRA's foreign connections
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Welcome to Farclandia
08 Feb 01 | Americas
New Colombia peace effort
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
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