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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
Irishmen remain in jail
James Monaghan (left), Martin McAuley and Niall Connolly
The three men protested their innocence in court statements
Three Irishmen acquitted of training left-wing rebels in Colombia are still being held in jail in Bogota pending a prosecution appeal.

The trial of James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley ended in the city more than eight months ago.

They were accused of training Farc rebels in the use of explosives and using false documentation.

While they were cleared of training the rebels, they were sentenced on the false passports charge.

The three were fined around $6,000 each.

The men, who have been in custody since they were detained in August 2001, are to be expelled from the country.

From the very moment of their arrests Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly were not subject to a fair legal process
Gerry Kelly
Sinn Fein

However, Colombia's chief prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio immediately announced he was going to appeal the verdict and their supporters fear this may delay their departure.

On the passports charge, Monaghan received 44 months, McCauley received 36 months and Connolly 26 months.

Former Colombian ambassador and legal expert Alfonso Gonzalez Mendes said: "This judgement still isn't definitive and is still subject to further examination.

"I believe the prosecutor has appealed the decision and it will go to a superior court in Bogota.

"We will just have to wait and see what the final decision will be. For the moment we will just have to accept the judge's decision and respect his interpretation of the case."

Caitriona Ruane, a Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who headed the campaign to have the men freed, said they were delighted by the verdicts.

However, she said the men should be allowed home as soon as possible as their lives were in danger.

"I have been talking to the Irish Government and we're looking at the mechanism to get these men out of this country very, very quickly," she said.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly welcomed the verdicts but said there was a lot of anger that the process had taken so long.

Detained at airport

"From the very moment of their arrests Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly were not subject to a fair legal process," he said.

"Their basic rights were denied, there was extensive false reporting in the media and the investigation was closed before key witnesses were interviewed.

"There was also ongoing political interference in the trial."

Justice official Miriam Montanez reads the verdicts
Justice official Miriam Montanez reads the verdicts

The Republic of Ireland's Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said he hoped the men would soon be re-united with their families.

However, Ulster Unionist assembly member Sir Reg Empey said the key question was why the men were travelling on false documents "if there was a benign explanation for their presence in Colombia".

Ian Paisley Junior of the DUP said republicans still had questions to answer.

He said these included the "extent of their links to worldwide terrorist groupings, what their representatives were doing travelling deep in Farc territory on illegal documents and what is their connection to the despicable Castro regime in Cuba?"

McCauley is in his 30s and from Lurgan in County Armagh, Monaghan is in his 50s and from County Donegal and Connolly is also in his 30s and from Dublin.

The three were detained at Bogota's El Dorado airport as they were about to board a flight out of the country.

Their arrest led to speculation that Irish republicans had formed links with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

The charge against them was that they had been teaching the rebels the techniques of urban terrorism.

The Irishmen strenuously denied this, claiming they were in the area to monitor the fledgling peace process as well as being eco-tourists.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Tara Mills:
"They may have to stay in Colombia because the prosecution are appealing the verdict."


BBC NI's Ruth McDonald:
"Colombia's chief prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio immediately announced he was going to appeal the verdict"



SEE ALSO:
Colombia accused address court
30 Jul 03  |  Northern Ireland
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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