Dublin appeals over Colombia 3

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has sent a personal message to the Colombian president calling for three Irishmen to be allowed home from Colombia.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, said both he and the Taoiseach had sent letters to their Colombian opposites, with the authority of the Dublin government.

“We indicated that facilitating the early departure from Colombia of these men was the best way of ensuring their safety,” he told the Dublin parliament today.

“I have asked the Colombian authorities to expedite the hearing of the appeal so this case can be concluded as quickly as possible.”

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley have been told they cannot leave the country until an appeal against their acquittal is heard.

They were found guilty in a Bogota court last month of travelling on false passports but cleared of training left-wing rebels in the country’s civil war.

They have been free to leave prison in Bogota, but supporters have refused to pay fines to get them out of jail, arguing that their lives would be at risk.

Sinn Féin assembly member Caitriona Ruane, who has campaigned for the men’s release, has just returned to Belfast.

The move by the Dublin government follows an appeal by campaigners for the men.

“These are three Irish citizens. The Irish government has to intervene directly with the Colombian government at the highest level - the Taoiseach to the President of Colombia,” she said yesterday. “The three men should be sent home.”

Asked about the mood of the men, Ms Ruane said: “They are obviously very relieved that they have been acquitted.

“They knew that there was no evidence against them but they are very aware of the political nature of the Colombian legal system.

“They know how significant it is, the decision of the judge. But they are obviously very concerned about their safety. They know that it is not going to be easy but they are very strong given all that they have been through.

“They know that everyone has to redouble their efforts to get them out, and they know that we are going to do that,” she added.

Ms Ruane said the men were still being housed in the same priso as 4,000 right-wing paramilitaries.

She described this as a very dangerous situation.

“We have had meetings with the Colombian government about their safety,” she said.

“We had meetings with the director of the jail.

“We are exploring our options. There is no point in bringing them out of jail unless we have a safe place to bring them and we need to talk to the Irish government as they have a key role in this.”

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