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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 20:06 GMT 21:06 UK
Trimble: Republican credibility 'damaged'
The men could face 16 years in jail if convicted
Republicans will have to work even harder to resolve Northern Ireland's political crisis after the arrest of three IRA suspects in Colombia, the Ulster Unionist leader has said.

David Trimble said the current policing debate was a "distraction" from the present crisis produced by the "failure of republicans" to decommission.

He also said the events in Columbia "radically change the approach we have to take on that matter".

Niall Connolly, 36 Martin McCauley, 38, and James Monaghan who is in his early 50s were arrested in Bogota earlier this month.

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.

The men have also been charged with carrying false passports, to which they have already confessed and could be sentenced almost immediately.
David Trimble
David Trimble is meeting his party executive on Saturday

Speaking on BBC NI's Newsline programme on Thursday, Mr Trimble said the credibilty of republicans, in terms of abandoning terrorism, had been "seriously damaged".

"The mountain that republicans have to climb, they have now made greater, and I would wish that they would focus on that instead of coming out with puerile excuses."

The political process is deadlocked over the interlocking issues of IRA decommissioning, British Army demilitarisation, policing and the stability of the institutions.

Suspension of devolution earlier this month triggered an additional six-week period for the parties to try to resolve the current impasse.

Patten

However, wrangling over the policing issue is continuing and members of the Ulster Unionist party have publicly disagreed over the way forward.

On Thursday, Mr Trimble also said he would nominate to the new policing board when he considered it appropriate.

To date, the nationalist SDLP is the only party to have signed up to the policing board which will oversee the new service.

Sinn Fein has rejected the blueprint, which aims to redress the gap between the current policing proposals and the 175 recommendations made by the Patten Commission nearly two years ago.

The SDLP's support followed the publication of the government's revised plan for implementing police reform earlier this month.

The Ulster Unionist Party has, to date, reserved judgement on the matter, but Mr Trimble said they would be accepting their responsibilities.

"We haven't declined to make appointments to the police board and we are a party of law and order," he said.

However, Mr Trimble said he was seeking clarification from the government on the appointments which the secretary of state will make and concerns raised in a report by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary about the new arrangements.

Party officers are due to meet on Friday, and the party's executive will meet the following day, when its policing policy is due to be discussed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's political correspondent Mark Simpson:
"There are mixed views in the Ulster Unionist Party about whether or not to join the new Police Board"
See also:

29 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
RUC aids Colombian investigation
18 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
'Upbeat assessment' of policing plan
20 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Catholic bishops back policing plan
23 Aug 01 | Americas
IRA suspects moved to danger prison
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