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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 08:34 GMT
Colombia 'IRA' trial adjourned
The three men awaiting trial
The men have refused to appear in court
The trial of three suspected IRA members accused of training Marxist guerrillas in Colombia has been adjourned until 7 February.

The move follows the failure of two prosecution witnesses to appear in court on the second day of the trial.

The witnesses, former rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), were due to testify about the presence of three foreigners in FARC camps.

One of the witnesses, who is in a resettlement scheme, cannot be found and the other said his life would be under threat on the lawless road from his jail to the court.

Rebels from the  Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
The men deny training FARC guerrillas
The accused - James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly - also refused to appear in court in the country's capital Bogota , saying the conditions did not exist for a fair trial.

An independent member of the Irish Republic's parliament, Finian McGrath, criticised the Colombian authorities over the conduct of the trial and said he would be reporting his views to the Dublin government.

"Fifty-four days the prosecution had to bring these witnesses and they didn't avail of the opportunity of flying these people in to present their evidence to the court."

'Reporting to UN'

Supporters of the three IRA suspects say they believe the prosecution case has now fallen apart.

Following Tuesday's adjournment, Catriona Ruane of the campaign to repatriate the three accused, says she will be raising concerns about the proceedings with the United Nations.

"The conditions of the these men are absolutely disgraceful. Their lives are in serious danger," she said.

"They are being held in a communal wing with 40 other prisoners and are surrounded by right-wing paramilitaries."

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

The three men, who were arrested last year in the city, stand accused of training left-wing insurgents in the use of explosives and other terrorist techniques.

'Impermeable court'

On the opening day of the trial, Judge Jairo Acosta banned any publication of witness evidence in Colombia until after the trial had ended.

The men face 20 years in prison if Judge Acosta, who will rule without a jury, decides they are guilty.

The men's defence lawyers have argued that their clients - who deny the charges - have already been unfairly convicted by the media coverage that has surrounded their case.

They have refused to leave their high-security prison for hearings on two previous occasions in protest at the proceedings.

Judge Acosta has denied allegations that he is under pressure to deliver a guilty verdict, declaring that his courtroom was "impermeable" to anything other than the facts.

The three men were arrested in August last year as they stepped off a plane that had come from former FARC territory, in the south of the country.

Closely watched

The Colombian prosecutor-general's office insists it has a tight case against the three, including forensic evidence and several witnesses who allegedly saw them training rebels.

But the suspects are equally adamant that they were in Colombia to observe the peace process between the former President, Andres Pastrana, and the rebels.

The men are being represented by several teams of defence lawyers, both Colombian and Irish.

They say the forensic evidence is tainted and that the witnesses have been bought by the Colombian authorities.

The affair will be closely watched in Northern Ireland, where it has fuelled allegations by unionists that the IRA was breaching its agreed ceasefire.

BBC NI's Mervyn Jess
"The prosecution denied their case was grumbling"
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"The trial has not been going well for the prosecution"
See also:

03 Dec 02 | N Ireland
28 Nov 02 | N Ireland
13 Jun 02 | N Ireland
07 Jan 02 | Americas
16 Oct 02 | N Ireland
04 Oct 02 | N Ireland
23 Apr 02 | N Ireland
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