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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
IRA 'part of global terror network'
From left: Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan
The men face eight years in jail if convicted
The IRA has formed part of a global terror network based in Colombia where it helps train guerrilla groups, according to a report by the US Congress.

The report said American lives were being put at risk by Provisional IRA activity in Colombia, and that both Colombian democracy and US national security is threatened.

The document was prepared after three Irish nationals were arrested in Colombia last August suspected of training FARC rebels.

It will form the basis of a House of Representatives' International Relations Committee hearing into the matter due to begin in Washington on Wednesday.

'Prejudice'

The report said that, according to Colombian authorities, not only had the IRA operated on behalf of the FARC, but also the Iranians, Cubans and possibly Basque separatist movement ETA.

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

He told a news conference in Belfast on Tuesday he had offered to meet the committee the next time he was in Washington.

Gerry Adams: Sinn Fein President
Gerry Adams refused to address the hearing

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday morning, Mr Adams defended his decision.

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.

"My personal view of what's good for us has to then be put into a context of how it will affect the men, how it will affect the overall process," he said.

The families of the three men arrested in Colombia welcomed Mr Adams decision.

BBC correspondent Justin Webb, in Washington, said the report confirmed the IRA was part of an international terrorist and drug-running network.

"This will be confirmed by senior members of the Colombian police and the Army, as well as the US State Department," he said.

Testimony

The committee is expected to hear evidence from at least one key Colombian security figure, who will offer a view as to what the three Irishmen were doing in a demilitarised zone in Colombia.

The director of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, just back from a visit to Colombia, will give evidence as well as a representative from the counter-terrorism section of the State Department.

The hearing is scheduled to last about two hours.

Mr Adams had been asked to explain to the committee why his representative in Cuba was among the three men arrested.

But the West Belfast MP claimed his testimony could prejudice the men's trial.

After the arrest of Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly in Colombia, Sinn Fein initially denied that Mr Connolly was its political representative in Cuba.

When it became apparent that this was untrue, the party said it had made a mistake.

'Framed'

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
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
talks to the BBC about the report which forms part of the congressional hearing
See also:

23 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein chief snubs US Congress
23 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Why Adams didn't go to Washington
20 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Hearing 'won't bias Colombian case'
16 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Trimble calls on SF leader to testify
30 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Adams 'advised' not to attend US hearing
22 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
SF link to Colombia arrest man
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