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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
Colombian 'IRA' witness disappears
Niall Connolly James Monaghan and Martin McCauley
The men could face 16 years in jail if convicted
A key witness in the case against three Irish republicans detained in Colombia has disappeared.

It comes as Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams admitted one of the men was the party's representative in Cuba.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were charged with training Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, in explosives and urban terrorism.

The missing witness, a former police inspector, said he had seen Mr McCauley with FARC guerrillas in 1998.

Without his testimony, legal sources say the chances of convicting the three men are reduced.

Circumstantial and forensic evidence suggesting the men had been in contact with explosives while with the guerrillas would not be enough to convict them on terrorism charges.

Death threats

The republicans' defence lawyer has already fled the country after receiving death threats from right-wing paramilitaries who said he must pay for helping international terrorists.

The arrest of the trio in Bogotá in August for travelling on false passports led to calls for Sinn Fein to be excluded from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr McCauley and Mr Monaghan have served sentences in Britain for IRA activity.

Security sources had insisted Mr Connolly had been the republican movement's contact in Cuba since 1996.

He was believed to have been part of the team helping to organise a trip to South America by Mr Adams. The trip has since been postponed because of the arrests.

On Monday, Mr Adams said Mr Connolly was appointed as Sinn Fein's representative in Cuba without his knowledge or the authorisation of the international department of his party.

The party had denied claims by the Cuban authorities that Mr Connolly was their representative.

But Mr Adams confirmed that an internal investigation revealed "one of our senior members asked Niall Connolly to represent the party in Cuba".

'Proper procedures'

"This decision was taken without the knowledge or authorisation of the international department or any other party structure including the party chairperson or myself."

Mr Adams said proper procedures had not been employed in the appointment of Mr Connolly.

He said they had since been reviewed to ensure that this "unfortunate situation" did not arise again.

The Colombian Attorney General, Luis Camilo Osorio, said Mr Adams' admission enhanced "the investigation and confirms many of the investigations that have already taken place."

The revelations come at a critical stage in the Northern Ireland political process.

Expectations of IRA action on decommissioning are growing after Mr Adams called for the movement to make a "ground-breaking" move on weapons issue.

The Northern Ireland political process has been deadlocked over an absence of decommissioning of IRA weapons.

See also:

22 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
SF link to Colombia arrest man
23 Aug 01 | Americas
US warning on IRA suspects
17 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Who are IRA suspects?
22 Aug 01 | Americas
'IRA' men in notorious prison
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