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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
Diplomat testifies in Colombia
Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan
The three men are accused of training FARC rebels
An Irish diplomat has been giving evidence at the trial of three alleged IRA men in Colombia.

Sheila Maguire, the first secretary of the Irish embassy in Mexico, said she had met with one of the accused, Niall Connolly, in Cuba on St Patrick's Day in 2001.

She was giving her testimony in the Colombian capital Bogota on Thursday on behalf of the defence.

The prosecution allege Niall Connolly was seen with James Monaghan and Martin McCauley training left wing FARC rebels in Colombia on that day.

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 them 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).

Explosives evidence

On Wednesday, another defence witness cast doubt on forensic evidence presented by the prosecution at the trial.

Forensic scientist Doctor Keith Borer gave a report on traces of explosives allegedly found on clothing belonging to the suspects.

Dr Borer, an English forensic scientist with 30 years experience working in explosives, has worked on cases that include the Brighton bomb, the Hyde Park bomb and the Oklahoma bombing in the United States.

He told the court it was his opinion the results should not be trusted.

Dr Borer was shown a report of how the samples were taken from the suspects' clothing and said the traces could have come from anywhere on a military base, where the trio were held.

He said there was no evidence that the area where the samples were taken was cleaned properly beforehand.

He was also questioned on alleged similarities between weapons used by FARC and the IRA.

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.

They 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.

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


SEE ALSO:
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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