Colombia three get amnesty, 19 years on

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Three Irish republicans once accused of training rebels in Colombia’s civil war have been granted an amnesty nearly two decades after they were arrested.

The development appears to mark the conclusion of a case that began when they were arrested at Bogota airport in 2001 amid a storm of publicity.

The three, Dubliner Niall Connolly (left), Armagh man Martin McCauley (right), and Donegal native Jim Monaghan (centre), had been involved in meetings related to Colombia’s long-running peace process, which has many parallels with Ireland.

Their arrest and a subsequent smear campaign was designed to increase pressure on Irish republicans to move away from the armed struggle and towards support for the political process.

The men were held hostage for three years in dire and dangerous prison conditions, and faced a constant murder threat from right-wing death-squads when a bounty was put on their heads.

The ‘Bring Them Home’ campaign fought an international rights campaign for the mens’s safe delivery from Colombia and its militarised system of justice. They were ultimately found guilty in 2004, but of travelling on false documentation, and not guilty on the more serious allegations claiming they had helped train the guerrillas.

Released pending an appeal, they found a way to return home to Ireland, and fortunately so, because three years later, in a farcical outcome, the prosecution’s appeal won convictions on all of the initial charges. They were sentenced to 17 years in prison in their absence.

No account of their hazardous return journey to Ireland has yet emerged, and for good reasons, said Mr Monaghan, who remains involved in the Colombian peace process.

“The story of that journey cannot be told for many years because that might endanger many good people. There are intelligence services who would dearly love to know how it was done, and to punish those who helped us escape from tyranny,” he said in 2015.

Back in Ireland, the men have faced calls for their extradition by right-wing elements in Britain and Ireland, despite the absence of an extradition process in the 26 Counties. However, a potential threat of extradition continued, particularly under British jurisdiction.

But this week brought an act of finality for an extraordinary chapter in recent Irish history -- nineteen years after their arrest, the three republicans were granted an amnesty/parole by a tribunal in Colombia: ironically, it was delivered by a tribunal which emerged from a peace deal between the government and the rebels.

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