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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 06:57 GMT 07:57 UK
Colombia trial hears defence case
Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan
The three men say conditions for a fair trial do not exist
Defence witnesses have begun giving evidence in the trial of three alleged IRA men in Colombia.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan are accused of training left-wing insurgents in the use of explosives and other terrorist techniques.

The men have refused to attend the court, saying they do not recognise the legitimacy of the Colombian judicial system and that the conditions for a fair trial do not exist.

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

The case has been mired in controversy since the Irishmen were arrested in August 2001.

The three men were detained as they stepped off a plane from an area which is a stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

If convicted, the accused, all allegedly linked to the IRA, could face 20 years in a Colombian prison.

Key witnesses

The trial is sitting for the first time since it was adjourned in February.

Judge Jairo Acosta has banned any publication of witness evidence in Colombia until after the trial had ended.

The trial almost descended into farce last December.

The judge had to call an adjournment as the prosecution's case was in danger of collapsing, with two of its key witnesses refusing to testify, saying they feared for their lives.

The men are accused of training FARC rebels, and security forces have blamed this training for the recent wave of car bombings and mortar attacks in the cities.

The men have been transferred back to La Modelo prison on the outskirts of Bogota from the country's toughest prison in the mountain province of Boyaca.

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

Colombia trial adjourned
18 Feb 03  |  Northern Ireland
Colombia 'IRA' trial adjourned
04 Dec 02  |  Northern Ireland
Court reporting, Colombian style
03 Dec 02  |  Northern Ireland
Q & A: The Colombia connection
13 Jun 02  |  Northern Ireland

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