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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Hearing 'won't bias Colombian case'
The men could face 16 years in jail if convicted
The men could face 16 years in jail if convicted
A US hearing into IRA links with left-wing FARC paramilitaries will not prejudice the trial of three republicans in Colombia, a leading American official has said.

Speaking on the BBC's Inside Politics programme, John Mackey said the hearing would go ahead on Wednesday even if Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams did not accept his invitation to attend the hearing.

Mr Mackey, an official with the International Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, said: "This hearing is not about the three Irish nationals.

"It is not about the Irish peace process - it is about US national interests in our backyard.

"The trial in Colombia is not a jury trial, where you might have publicity influencing a sitting jury.

"It is a non-jury trial by an experienced judge."

Gerry Adams: Sinn Fein President
Gerry Adams: Undecided as to whether he will testify at the congressional hearing

Last week, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble urged Gerry Adams to testify to the US Congressional hearing.

Mr Trimble accused Mr Adams of treating the US Congress with contempt, because of his reluctance to testify at the hearing in Washington.

The West Belfast MP has not yet ruled out attending the hearing on 24 April, but said he had been strongly advised not to go.

Speaking in London on Tuesday, Mr Trimble also urged the republican movement to break its ties with all international terrorist organisations.

Significant step

Last month, Colombian prosecutors formally charged three IRA suspects with teaching bomb-making to Marxist rebels, bringing the men's trial a significant step closer.

Prosecutors passed the case to a federal judge six months after the three men were arrested while leaving an area controlled by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The three, Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly, face up to eight years in jail if convicted.

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

The hearing is entitled: The IRA in Colombia - the Global Links of International Terrorism.

Technical evidence

The three men in custody have denied the allegations, and bought advertising space in a newspaper in February to say they had been "framed as part of attempts to damage peace talks between the government and rebels".

Under Colombian law, the three men have the right to appeal against the prosecutor's charges. The judge decides if the case should go forward, and if so, sets a trial date.

According to the prosecutor's report, witnesses have testified that they saw the three men in the Switzerland-sized zone in southern Colombia controlled by the FARC.

Technical evidence revealed traces of explosives on their clothes, the report said.

International Relations Committee's John Mackey:
"This is not about the three Irish nationals"
See also:

16 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Trimble calls on SF leader to testify
30 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Adams 'advised' not to attend US hearing
09 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Trimble calls for border poll
22 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
SF link to Colombia arrest man
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