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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July, 2003, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Colombia accused address court
James Monaghan (left), Martin McAuley and Niall Connolly
The three men protested their innocence in court statements
The three Irishmen standing trial in Colombia accused of training Marxist guerrillas have appeared before the court for the first time.

Martin McAuley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly had previously refused to attend the trial because of fears for their safety.

They are accused of training left-wing Farc rebels in the use of explosives and using false documentation.

Both the prosecutor and the solicitor general have called for a conviction in the case against the three.

The men were arrested in August 2001 as they stepped off a plane from an area which was a stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Each man made a statement in court at the summing-up stage of the trial on Wednesday, as entitled under Colombian law.

Mr McAuley, from Lurgan, County Armagh, talked about the political situation in Northern Ireland and Colombia in his statement.

He said there had been a concerted campaign of lies against himself and his two friends.

He said: "I am not a member of the IRA. I am not guilty of the charges laid out against me in this court.

"Like my two friends, I was using another name. Each of us had experience of threats, harassment and violence in shared and different situations.

"There is nothing more than a desire to travel unhindered in the fact that I was travelling on another name."

In his statement, Mr Monaghan outlined his work with a group for former republican prisoners in Dublin.

Martin McAuley
There is nothing more than a desire to travel unhindered in the fact that I was travelling on another name.
Martin McAuley
He also insisted that he was only meeting Farc members to discuss conflict resolution.

"I have lived openly, and travelled to all parts of Ireland over the past 17 years," he said.

"I have not been arrested or charged in relation to any of these allegations.

"I reject them. I am not a member of the IRA."

Mr Connolly criticised the Colombian prosecutor, saying the case had been used to undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland and Colombia.

He denied IRA membership, and accused the British authorities of "false and irresponsible leaks" at the time of his arrest.

"Our lawyers from Colombia and Ireland will show that without a shadow of a doubt that we are not guilty as charged," he said.

"They will also show that this case should never have been brought to this court."

Relatives of the three men spoke to them briefly before they were taken back to La Modelo jail outside Bogota to await the verdict.

Earlier, Caitriona Ruane, of the Bring Them Home Campaign, said the men had decided to appear before the court in support of the role played by international observers.
Niall Connolly
Niall Connolly leaves the courthouse, flanked by police

Summing up the case on Monday, prosecutor Carlos Sanchez said that since 1998 there had been a massive increase in terrorist attacks in Colombia and this coincided with IRA members visiting the country.

He said Colombia had suffered under terrorism and claimed that a Farc grenade and mortar attack, which killed 21 people last year, was as a result of IRA training.

The defence team is also to sum up its case this week.

The judge will then retire to consider the evidence.

Mr McAuley is from Northern Ireland, while the other two are from the Irish Republic.

They had previously refused to attend the court, saying that they did not recognise the legitimacy of the Colombian judicial system and that the conditions for a fair trial did not exist.

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




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"The Irishmen accused the British and American embassies in Colombia of distorting facts"



SEE ALSO:
Diplomat testifies in Colombia
10 Apr 03  |  Northern Ireland
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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