Delegation to visit Colombia over unfair trial

Four Irish politicians are to travel to Colombia next week to visit three Irishmen held on charges of training rebels.

Fianna Fail MEP Niall Andrews, Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe, Fianna Fail Senator Mary White and Sinn Féin Assembly member Caitriona Ruane will also meet senior members of the Colombian government, the Catholic Church, and the United Nations.

A verdict in the trial of James Monaghan, Martin McCauley, and Niall Connolly has been delayed again, with Judge Jairo Acosta blaming a heavy workload. latest reports indicate the judge is not planning to conclude the case before the end of February.

The men known as the Colombia Three are in La Modelo prison in the Colombian capital where they have been awaiting a verdict since their trial concluded five months ago. They could get eight to 14 years if found guilty on the bomb-making charge, and two to eight years if convicted of using false passports. The judgment is likely to be delivered to the prison in writing.

At a press conference this morning, Mr Andrews the delay in the verdict was ``a grave concern''

``It was obvious in July that given the lack of evidence in the prosecution case that these three men should have been home with their families many months ago. They are three European citizens and I have met with the Vice President of Colombia, Mr Santos to express my concerns about the case.''

Ms Ruane, of the Bring Them Home Campaign, said a team of 16 international observers ``stated categorically in their reports that these men are not getting a fair trial and expressed concern about the politicisation of their trial.''

Ms White said she had raised her concerns with the Irish Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Dublin.

Deputy Crowe pointed out that the Dublin government has repeatedly acknowledged that serious concerns exist in relation to the plight of the three men and the fact that they have been subject to seriously prejudicial comments from people at the highest levels of the Colombian political and military establishment.

``It is clear, from these comments, that the Government believes that the men's trial has been prejudiced,'' said Crowe.

``While these comments are welcome, it is time that the government did more. They should be demanding the immediate release of the three men as it is very obvious that they cannot and will not receive justice in Colombia - no matter what assurances they are given by the Authorities there.

``I believe that there is an even greater responsibility on the Government to act, now that they hold the Presidency of the EU, to ensure that the human rights of Irish and EU citizens are upheld and this farce is brought to an end.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News