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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 20:39 GMT 21:39 UK
Colombia suspects deny IRA links
They were named by the Colombian police as David Bracken, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley
The three captured men were shown to the media
Three alleged IRA suspects arrested in Colombia earlier this week have denied links with the Provisional IRA or Colombian guerrillas.

The men, James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connelly, insist they were in the safe haven of the Colombian guerrillas simply as tourists, a source from the attorney general's office said on Thursday.

The men were arrested in Bogota on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

United States state department spokesman Philip Reeker said on Thursday that the US would consider any links between the IRA and the guerrillas as troubling.

'Troubling questions'

"We would be concerned if it were established that the Provisional Irish Republican Army were assisting, sharing information or in any way collaborating with a violent terrorist organization such as the FARC," said Mr Reeker.


We'll be closely monitoring any information with regard to the activities and affiliations of those three men

Philip Reeker, US State Department

He said any relationship with the FARC or with any other paramilitary organisation "would certainly raise troubling questions".

"We'll be closely monitoring any information with regard to the activities and affiliations of those three men who have been arrested in Colombia."

The three suspects can be held until next week before either being charged or released.

Colombian prosecutors have said they are advancing with their investigation into the three men who are accused of training Marxist rebels.

However, the Colombian army has now admitted it does not have secret film of the trio.

It is thought they may also have been exchanging information before they were arrested at the weekend after entering the country in June.

Background
Martin McCauley won five-figure sum in damages against RUC after shoot-to-kill incident
He received a suspended sentence for possessing rifles
James Monaghan appeared on party platform at 1989 Sinn Fein conference

The leader of the nationalist SDLP, John Hume, has said Sinn Fein needs to clarify the republican position in light of the Colombian arrests.

Mr Hume said the revelations could be damaging to the political situation.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy likened the allegations to "candyfloss" and said they should not be used to block demilitarisation.

"I regret that people have used the story that they found on the other side of the world to try to undermine the peace process here," he said.

International law

If convicted, the trio could face maximum prison terms of 15-20 years, court sources in Colombia have said. However, they could be deported or extradited.

Colombia's minister of defence said: "We are advancing with the investigation, the British authorities are aware and the procedures of international law will be followed."

Two of the men were travelling on British passports, the other was holding an Irish passport.

The arrests were made by a specialist investigative branch of the Colombian Police, known as the Fiscalia, at the weekend.

Colombian Commander-General Jorge Enrique Mora told the BBC: "It has been confirmed to us by the authorities in Northern Ireland that they are IRA."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker:
"US would consider links between the IRA and guerrillas as troubling"
See also:

13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Welcome to Farclandia
08 Feb 01 | Americas
New Colombia peace effort
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