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3 June 2004 Edition

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Ahern lobbies for Colombia Three

BY MARTIN SPAIN

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last weekend met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe concerning the case of the Colombia Three during a summit of European Union and South American leaders in Mexico.

Bring Them Home campaign spokesperson CaitrĂ­ona Ruane, during a meeting beforehand with Ahern and Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, had requested that the Taoiseach pursue the government's concerns about the safety of the three Irishmen with Uribe directly.

Ruane said the talks were very significant but urged the government to keep the pressure on the Colombians to respond. Ahern expressed concerns to Uribe about the safety of Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan, still held in La Modelo jail pending an appeal lodged by the attorney general's office.

At the end of April, a Colombian judge acquitted the men on charges of training FARC guerrillas. The three were convicted of travelling to the country on false passports.

The Taoiseach proposed the men should be allowed to return to Ireland pending the appeal or that the President consider getting somebody more senior than the attorney general to examine the grounds for appeal to see if it should go ahead, given the strength of the judge's written verdict.

President Uribe promised to respond to the government's proposals within a week to ten days.

CaitrĂ­ona Ruane said it was vital President Uribe was held to his promise.

"I have talked to the men since last night's meeting and also to their families," she said. "They are delighted that the Taoiseach and President Uribe have met.

"It is a very significant meeting and something we have been asking the Irish Government to seek for some time.

"President Uribe is a very powerful man in Colombia. I think what is clear to everybody, including the Irish Government is that these men need to be brought home and I hope this meeting goes a long way to getting them back swiftly."

She said the prisoners remained strong but were concerned for their own safety in a country with a volatile political climate.

"It is very important there is an urgent follow-up to this meeting. It is very clear the only way to guarantee these men's lives is to get them home to Ireland."

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