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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
Congress hears damning IRA report
Congressman Henry Hyde
Congressman Henry Hyde chaired the hearing
The House of Representatives' International Relations Committee in Washington has heard claims that as many as 15 IRA members have visited Colombia in the last five years.

The committee finished proceedings on Wednesday where it heard testimony from both Colombian and US government witnesses.

Chairman Henry Hyde said all the facts surrounding the arrest of the three Irishmen in Colombia last August pointed towards their heavy involvement with the IRA and with training FARC terrorists.

However, serious doubts have been raised about its conclusions by committee members.


We have been presented with a report short on facts and replete with speculation, and surmise and opinion, much of which I disagree with

William Delahunt Democrat congressman

He claimed the IRA's presence in the region probably went beyond the three men awaiting trial in Bogota and dismissed the possibility that their visit to the country was innocent.

"The question is what are members of the IRA doing in Colombia," he said.

"Claims that these individuals were there for benign purposes specifically eco-tourism or for activities related to the Irish and Colombian peace processes are an insult to our intelligence."

However, some senior members of the committee from both sides attacked the basic premise of the hearing.

Democrat Congressman William Delahunt said: "Unfortunately we have been presented with a report short on facts and replete with speculation, and surmise and opinion, much of which I disagree with.

'Upper echelons'

"This report and other documents have received wide circulation both here and abroad and is quickly being accepted as the position of this committee."

The Commander in Chief of Colombia's armed forces claimed seven members of the IRA had been helping to train FARC guerillas in his country.

General Fernando Tapias told the hearing he did not know if they were acting on their own part or on behalf of the IRA.


The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia

IRA statement

He said two of those arrested were in the "upper echelons" of the IRA.

"There are facts that I do not have which are in the hands of the judiciary in Colombia," he said.

Meanwhile, the IRA has denied any involvement with left-wing guerrillas in Colombia.

In a statement on Wednesday, the IRA again said its leadership had sent "no-one to Colombia to train or to engage in any military co-operation with any group".

The IRA said the arrest of the three Irishmenhad been "used again in an intense way by opponents of the peace process in Ireland and Britain".

It said this was an "attempt to undermine and subvert the democratic peace process".

It added: "The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will not do so."

Gerry Adams: Sinn Fein President
Gerry Adams said his position was vindicated by Henry Hyde

The IRA said it was "fully committed to a successful outcome of the Irish peace process" and was no threat to that process.

The statement repeated the IRA's denial of links with Colombia which it made shortly after the men were arrested.

The statement followed a US Congress report said the IRA had formed part of a global terror network based in Colombia where it helped train guerrilla groups.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was asked to appear before the committee, but declined.

Mr Hyde said there was no reason to doubt the Sinn Fein leader's claim that the party had no knowledge of the mens' trip to Colombia.

Speaking in Dublin, Gerry Adams said that vindicated his position.

"Our opponents seized upon the fact that I was not going because they said that we had something to hide," he said.

"We had nothing to hide.

"For the chairman to come out and his remarks, to put on the record what I have said and to vindicate and to acknowledge the truthfulness of what I have said, I think justifies our position in this all along."

He said he would liked to have attended the hearing but felt it would prejudice the forthcoming trial of the three Irish men. He also insisted that Sinn Fein did not have a case to answer.

Last month, Colombian prosecutors formally charged the three suspects - two from Republic of Ireland and one from Northern Ireland - with teaching bomb-making to Marxist rebels, bringing the men's trial a significant step closer.

The men have all denied links with the IRA or Colombian guerrillas.

They have said they have been "framed as part of attempts to damage peace talks between the government and rebels".

FARC and other terrorist groups in Colombia are thought to be responsible for 90% of the cocaine and 70% of the heroin sold on America's streets.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergal Keane
"Congress is accusing the IRA of putting American lives at risk"
Congressional Committee Chairman Henry Hyde
"The available evidence suggests the IRA has had a presence in that country for at least three years"
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein
"There was no evidence to back up the allegations"

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24 Apr 02 | N Ireland
23 Apr 02 | N Ireland
23 Apr 02 | N Ireland
20 Apr 02 | N Ireland
22 Oct 01 | N Ireland
20 Sep 01 | N Ireland
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