An international campaign to allow the three Irishmen known as the ‘Colombia 3’ to be released into freedom is underway following their acquittal in Bogota on charges of training rebels last week.
The Colombian authorities are still refusing to provide the three Irishmen -- James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly -- with protection following their acquittal. The three remain in prison amid growing concern for their fate.
If their lawyers made a bail payment of 17,000 Euros to the court, supplied in the form of a loan by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, the men could be allowed out of La Modelo jail pending a possible, but now unlikely, appeal by the Colombian prosecutor’s office.
The defence team and the “Bring Them Home Campaign” have no guarantees that the men and their supporters will not be shot as soon as they are released. They are fearful of any arrangement which would involve the men leaving jail but remaining in Colombia after a request for armed protection for the three men was turned down by the Colombian authorities.
The defence team has sent a petition to the judge, Dr Jairo Acosta, to allow the men to leave the country because their personal security cannot be guaranteed. The judge has until the end of this week to rule on the petition.
Caitriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home Campaign has appealed for support.
She said the Colombian government had created this problem by prejudicial comments. “They are the ones who have put all our lives in danger and now they are refusing to take the necessary steps. One day we have the vice-president on television saying that he supports the decision of the judge, the next we have the Minister for Defence, and senior members of the police ridiculing it.
“The Colombian government need to rein in their military and police. Who is in charge here, the executive or the security agencies?”
Ms Ruane has discussed the case by telephone with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Dublin, Brian Cowen, and, in her statement, she said she had written him a letter requesting that he “make formal representation to the Colombian government at the highest level to send these men home now”.
Meanwhile, the full verdict of Judge Acosta in the case has shown his deep scepticism of the evidence of the alleged rebel deserters who testified against the men.
Rodriguez had claimed in court that he was an illiterate former coca-leaf picker (the raw material for cocaine) who joined the FARC in 1999 at the age of 22 and became a driver for the second-in-command of the guerrillas, Jorge Briceno, alias “El Mono Jojoy”.
In that capacity he testified that, on February 5th, 2001, he picked up a man matching the description of James Monaghan at La Sombra, Caqueta, in the zone which was formerly ceded to FARC during the now-defunct peace process involving the Colombian government and the guerrillas. Commander Briceno allegedly told Rodriguez that Monaghan had come to provide training in explosives.
The witness claimed to have stood guard while Monaghan and two other foreigners gave classes, over a 20-day period, in such matters as the use of 150 mm mortars “to bring down aircraft”.
He further stated that the training finished on February 25th with a practical demonstration of explosive techniques close to the village of Los Pozos. However, the judge finds it “strange” and “a paradox” (Irish Times translation of the Spanish text) that, in the same place and on the same date, peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC were taking place.
Rodriguez said he recognised Monaghan and the other Irishmen later, when he saw them on television after their arrest. He claimed to have seen Monaghan and the others on TV the same day as the much-publicised release of a number of Colombian military officers from captivity by the FARC at La Macarena, which took place on June 28th, 2001.
The judge points out that on the date which one claimed to have seen Jim Monaghan providing training in the rebel-controlled zone, none of the three men were in Colombia.
The judge accused the witness of bartering his willingness to give evidence for a place on the Colombian government’s well-funded witness protection programme, that his testimony was neither “original or spontaneous” and appeared derived from statements by State military officials.