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12 December 2002 Edition

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Colombian official ripped Paul Hill's passport

Former miscarriage of justice victim Paul Hill had pages ripped out of his passport by a security offial at Bogota airport last week. Hill had travelled to Colombia as part of a delegation of Irish observers at the trial of the three Irishmen known as the Colombia Three.

Bring Them Home campaign spokesperson Caitríona Ruane said Paul Hill was visibly shocked when, after handing over his passport to the security official at the airport, the man tore the pages out of the document and threw it back at him. When Hill and Ruane returned to the desk moments later to complain, the official was nowhere to be seen and those who were there refused to take the complaint. The supervising officer reversed his ID badge when Ruane asked for his name and when she reached out to try to see his name, she was assaulted as her wrist was roughly grabbed.

The security officials are part of the same state agency that provided prosecution evidence against Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley.

Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe, who was part of the delegation and witnessed the incident, has tabled a Dáil question to Foreign Affairs minister Brian Cowen making him aware of this mistreatment of two Irish citizens and asking what the Department intends to do about it. "I want an assurance from the Colombians at the highest level that the safety of Irish people travelling to Colombia will be guaranteed and that this thuggish behaviour will not be repeated, " Crowe told An Phoblacht.

Dublin barrister Ronan Munro, another observer, has also written to Cowen to express his "outrage" over the incident.

Meanwhile, Caitríona Ruane has written to the Colombian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Clemencia Ferrero, asking for assurances on three points, after the trial against the men was adjourned until 5 February when two key prosecution witnesses failed to show (despite the fact that one is in custody and the other is in a witness protection scheme).

Ruane is seeking assurancs that the Department has sought legal advice in respect of pre-trial publicity, which the defence argues was prejudicial against the three men.

She has asked for an assurance that Colombia's Vice-President Santos, who is tasked with protecting human rights, has been made aware of the concerns about the pre-trial publicity and about the trial.

Ruane has also asked what steps have been taken to ensure the attendance of the two missing witnesses on 5 February. She is looking for answers to all these points by 1 January.


Next week: Independent TD Finian McGrath describes the Irish delegation's visit to the notorious El Modelo prison in Bogota, where the three Irishmen are being held.

Felons hosts Colombia Three bazaar



Mary McConville and Mary Maginn, two of the organisers of this Saturday's Bazaar to aid the Colombia 3 Defence Fund, accept a hamper from Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice. The bazaar, in Andersonstown's Felons Club in Belfast, will run from 1pm until 5pm.

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An Phoblacht
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