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25 March 2004 Edition

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Pressure grows on Colombian Government

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The Vice President of Colombia could not escape the case of the Colombia Three on his visit to Ireland this week.

Francisco Santos faced a barrage of criticism from Senators and TDs from across the political divide in Leinster House on Tuesday during a meeting with the All-Party Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. In a separate meeting with international observers who attended the trial of the three Irishmen charged with training FARC guerrillas, Santos was challenged for the inordinate delay in the Colombian court delivering a verdict. It is now eight months since the trial ended and Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan have been jailed in Colombia for nearly three years.

Meanwhile, up to 200 people, including balladeer Christy Moore, protested outside the gates of Leinster House calling on the Colombian authorities to release the three Irishmen and urging the Dublin Government to demand that its citizens be released.

A large number of the protestors had come from all over the island, many from republican former prisoner groups from Armagh, Louth, Lurgan and Strabane. They came to protest the continued detention of the three men.

Santos was in Ireland in support of President Uribe's request to the EU for financial support for his government. Interestingly, though, there was no official photocall with Bertie Ahern, a sign perhaps of the international concern generated by the Bring Them Home campaign about the case of the three men and the human rights situation in general in Colombia.

A measure of the storminess of the meeting with the parliamentarians was the comment of Fianna Fáil TD Pat Carey to Santos that there was "empirical, objective evidence" that Colombia is very close to being a dysfunctional democracy.

In a subsequent interview with the Irish Times, Santos acknowledged the international spotlight on Colombia as a result of the work of the Bring Them Home campaign. "The pressure has really come from the Bring Them Home Campaign, to tell you the truth," he told Deaglán de Bréadún. "They are very active, there has been a lot of presence, to say the least, in regard to this case."

In the meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee, parliamentarians raised issues of human rights and Colombia's appalling record in this regard, and all raised the issue of the continued detention of the Colombia Three as a case in point, where justice is being denied.

Outside the gates of Leinster House, Cristín McCauley, wife of Martin McCauley, accompanied by their three teenage children, Roisín, Orla and Pádraig, made an impassioned plea for the release of the three men. She spoke about how there is is no case against them and praised the human rights lawyers who have defended the men, at such great personal risk to themselves. Caitríona Ruane, who has co-ordinated the Bring Them Home campaign, also paid respect to the lawyers for their courage and steadfastness.

Members of the Bring Them Home campaign met with Vice President Santos before the Oireachtas Joint Committee meeting. TD Seán Crowe, who attended all the court hearings of the case in Colombia, raised with Santos the lack of evidence in support of the charges brought. Ronan Munro raised the issue of the extremely prejudicial statements made by senior members of the Government and Army, declaring the guilt of the men. Senator Mary White spoke of the appalling effects on the prisoners as a result of the long delay in delivering a verdict. Finally, independent TD Finian McGrath raised with Santos the general concerns of Irish parliamentarians concerning the case, and about human rights in Colombia.

Des Bonass, longstanding member of the Dublin City Council of Trade Unions, who has also visited Colombia to observe proceedings in the case, raised the concerns of Irish trade unionists about the case.

There is no question that Santos was left in little doubt about the concerns of Irish parliamentarians about respect for human rights in Colombia and their view that the continued detention of these three Irish citizens is a travesty of justice that urgently demands redress.

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