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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August, 2005, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Colombia 3 'are back in Ireland'
James Monaghan (left), Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly
The three Irishmen each received 17 year sentences
Three missing republicans sentenced to jail terms for training Marxist rebels in Colombia have secretly returned to the Republic of Ireland.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were sentenced to 17 years after an appeal court reversed their earlier acquittal on the charge.

The men, who vanished in December 2004 while on bail awaiting a court of appeal decision, deny a deal was done.

Unionists reacted with anger to the development, which Sinn Fein welcomed.

Irish state broadcaster RTE reported the trio returned in recent days.

RTE interviewed one of the men, Jim Monaghan, at a secret location.

He denied that any deal had been done with the British or Irish governments following the IRA's statement last week in which it said it was ending its campaign of violence.

James Monaghan pictured back in Ireland

He said he did not consider himself to be "on the run" and would not be hiding from Irish police.

There is no extradition treaty between the Republic of Ireland and Colombia.

Monaghan would not say how the three men got back to Ireland, but that they had got "a lot of help from a lot of people" and that he would not endanger them.

He said he hoped the Irish government would not place any obstacles in the way of the three men staying in the country and the government "would be very remiss to send anyone back to Colombia".

We are looking for their immediate arrest and for the Republic to hand them over to the Colombian authorities
Peter Robinson
DUP deputy leader

He said the men were not prepared to go back to Colombia if they lost their appeal in the case, and that they would be seeking legal advice about the possibility of extradition back to Colombia.

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said: "They have a judicial sentence over their heads and we sincerely hope that they pay jail for it.

"We hope that the international police system will hand them over to Colombia even though that's difficult because there's no extradition treaty between Ireland and Colombia."

Deputy prime minister Mary Harney said there were "very serious issues to be addressed, seeing as they were travelling on false passports".

An Irish government spokesman said: "This issue was not part of the government's discussions with Sinn Fein and we had no prior knowledge of their return to Ireland."

However, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny demanded an immediate statement from Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on the circumstances surrounding the men's return.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: "We have only just become aware of the presence of these men in the Republic of Ireland.

It is surely no coincidence that the Colombia Three have arrived home after the events of the last fortnight emanating from the IRA statement
Michael McGimpsey

"That is a matter for the Irish authorities. If they enter the UK, an extradition request will be dealt with without delay."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he welcomed the news.

However, he added: "I want to make clear that this issue was not discussed with the Irish government, nor was it either a deal or a side deal related to recent developments in the peace process."

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said he had expressed his party's "grave concern" about the three men's return with the British government.

"We are looking for their immediate arrest and for the Republic to hand them over to the Colombian authorities.

"Mr Ahern must facilitate, by whatever means necessary, their swift extradition. If he does not, unionists in Northern Ireland will believe him to be complicit," he said.

'Remain in the country'

Ulster Unionist MLA Michael McGimpsey said the Irish government had a duty "to send the three men back to Colombia".

"It is surely no coincidence that the Colombia Three have arrived home after the events of the last fortnight emanating from the IRA statement," he said.

The SDLP's Alex Attwood said the case had caused huge damage to the peace process.

"Their return will not be celebrated by democratic nationalists across the island," he said.

The men, who had been accused of being IRA members, were found guilty of travelling on false passports.

They were acquitted of training Farc guerrillas, but the Colombian attorney general appealed against that decision.

Farc rebels train in southern Colombia (file)
Trio were sentenced for training Marxist rebels

A judge had ordered the men to remain in the country pending the outcome of the appeal.

Their whereabouts were unknown and an international arrest warrant was issued for them.

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

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

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

Colombian troops killed in ambush
07 Apr 05 |  Americas
New attack kills Colombia troops
03 Feb 05 |  Americas
Marines killed in 'Farc' attack
01 Feb 05 |  Americas
Colombian sentences 'a travesty'
20 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland
Hunt on for convicted Irishmen
17 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland
Q&A: The Colombia connection
16 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland

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