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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 03:50 GMT 04:50 UK
Irishmen stay put in Bogota jail
James Monaghan (left), Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly
The three men protested their innocence in court statements
Three Irishmen acquitted in Colombia of training Marxist rebels are refusing to leave prison until the authorities offer guarantees for their safety.

The men cannot leave the country because the Colombian attorney-general's office is appealing against the acquittals.

They were found guilty on a passport offence but are due for release on probation after 32 months in prison.

Now they fear that right-wing militants, who often kill left-wing activists and journalists, will target them.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan can leave jail as soon as they pay a fine of some $7,000 (4,000) each on the passport charge.

The Colombian government was embarrassed by their acquittal on charges of training left-wing rebels in explosives and terrorist techniques as it had repeatedly condemned the men in public statements.

Now, it not only has to eat its words, but will have to seriously consider protecting the men it worked so hard to convict, says the BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota.

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

After the verdict, Colombia's chief prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio immediately announced that he was going to appeal against it.

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

McCauley, 41, is from Lurgan in County Armagh, Monaghan, 58, is from County Donegal and Connolly , 38, is from Dublin.

The three were detained at Bogota's El Dorado airport in August 2001 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.

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