Colombia 3 book launched

One of the Colombia 3, Jim Monaghan, has this week published a book about his experiences, Colombia Jail Journal.

On August 11 2001 Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley were arrested at Bogota Airport in Colombia while travelling on false passports.

The arrests generated an anti-IRA media frenzy and contributed to the decision by unionists to collapse the Belfast Assembly and Executive.

The Colombia Three, as they became known, were accused of providing training to “narco-terrorists” -- the left-wing FARC movement -- in Colombia’s civil war.

The three said they were touring Colombia to observe its peace process and denied providing training to anyone.

Monaghan and McCauley both had previous explosives convictions.

In August 2003 they were cleared of the training charge and fined for using false documentation.

They were freed from prison but ordered to remain in the country after the governing Colombian regime lodged an appeal.

In December 2004 a court responding to the government’s appeal, without any new evidence, overturned the original acquittal and sentenced them to 17 years in jail.

It soon emerged that the three men had left Colombia, where their lives were under threat.

Nine months later they turned up in Dublin, days after the IRA had announced its war was over.

There is no legal framework for extraditions from ireland to Colombia.

However, the three are unable to leave Ireland or travel north of the border as international warrants for their arrest and extradition to Colombia remain outstanding.

Speaking ahead of his book launch, Monaghan again repeated that the three republicans were in Colombia to observe peace talks.

“The only reason we were not travelling on our own passports was for our own safety,” he said.

“If we had gone there on our own passports there was a real danger that the British intelligence services or Special Branch would have tipped off the Colombian government, who in turn would have made us a target for their paramilitary gangs.

“Anyone who knows anything about Colombia knows that this was no idle threat.”

Accepting that some people would never believe the men were not providing training to the left-wing rebels, he said: “If we had been training FARC do you think it would have stayed a secret for long? The British and Americans would have been on us like a shot.

The former IRA prisoner said it was ironic that a leading British explosives expert had helped to discredit evidence against them.

“Dr Keith Borer had given evidence in a lot of cases against people accused of IRA activities so he could not be accused of being a republican sympathiser,” he said.

“He was able to show that the claims about us training Farc were rubbish.

“There was supposed eyewitness evidence that we had been training Farc but we were able to

show through video and other evidence that we were actually in Ireland at the times they claimed we had been in Colombia.”

However, Monaghan refuses to say how the three men managed to escape back to Ireland.

“A lot of people put their lives at risk helping us to get home and I won’t endanger them.

“Maybe some day we’ll be able to tell how we made it home. Maybe we’ll never be able to say.”

Days after returning the trio reported to different Garda stations to be questioned.

“We received legal advice that the Irish government was unlikely to send us back to Colombia but there was no guarantee they wouldn’t put us on the next plane back to Bogota.

“Thankfully gardai questioned us and then said we were free to go.

“It’s been 18 months now and we’ve heard nothing more about it.”

Defending his decision to write about his Colombian experience, Monaghan said: “Part of the reason I wrote this book was to set out the evidence and let people judge for themselves.

“The facts are there for anyone who wants to look at them.

“There are those who still believe we must have been involved in drugs or explosives. Some people will never believe what I’m saying simply because I’m a republican.

“I’m not asking people to take my word for it. Just look at the evidence and then decide.”

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