Three Irishmen who were cleared on Monday of training rebels in Colombia’s civil war could be released from jail later today.
James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley have been held in a jail in Bogota since August 2001. They are still being held in La Modelo jail pending a prosecution appeal.
As supporters of the trio waited for word over whether they would be released, they called for a “comprehensive security plan” from the Colombian authorities to ensure the men’s safe passage home to Ireland.
The trial of the men, known as the Colombia 3, ended in the city more than eight months ago.
While they were cleared of training the rebels, they were sentenced on a charge of using false passports.
The three were fined around $6,000 each.
On the passports charge, Monaghan received 44 months, McCauley received 36 months and Connolly 26 months.
Under Colombian law, prison terms of less than 48 months can, in effect, be suspended and the convicted person or persons released.
It is understood the men, who have already served 32 months, are to be expelled from the country.
Supporters of the men have held a number of meetings with the Colombian authorities to discuss their release. The key point at issue was whether the men could leave the country immediately if they lodged the bail payments.
After the verdict, Colombia’s chief prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio immediately announced he was going to appeal it to higher court.
Caitriona Ruane, a Sinn Féin member of the Belfast 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 and she urged the Colombian government to stop playing with their lives of three.
Ruane said: “There is no safe place for these men in Colombia.
“The legal process is slow and bureaucratic.
“We cannot accept a situation where the men are in this country upon release for any length of time. This is not an option.”
The Bring Them Home Campaign yesterday met Colombian government, Irish government, United Nations and International Red Cross officials.
Ms Ruane confirmed they also visited the three prisoners who were delighted with the verdict but “only too well aware of the dangers facing them and the Bring Them Home Campaign at this present time”.
Relatives of the trio and supporters were on stand-by back in Ireland today for news of a release.
Ms Ruane accused the Colombian authorities of putting the prisoners’ lives at risk in recent years with a number of “dangerous comments” about them.
She continued: “We have called on the Colombian government to provide us with a comprehensive security plan to inform us how they are going to protect the men and the Bring Them Home Campaign representatives who are over here prior to us leaving the country.
“Their irresponsible comments have created the problem. They must now present us with a solution.
“We will be telling the Colombian authorities today that we want the men home and we want them home now and to stop playing games with all our lives.”