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10 April 2003 Edition

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Defence witnesses in Botoga as Colombia Three trial resumes

BY MARTIN SPAIN


A court in Bogota was due to hear crucial evidence from an internationally renowned forensic scientist on Wednesday rubbishing the forensic evidence allegedly connecting three Irishmen to FARC guerillas. Defence witnesses and an international delegation of human rights lawyers and politicians travelled to Bogota last weekend for the resumption of the trial of the men known as the Colombia Three on Tuesday.

Dr Keith Borer has 23 years experience as a forensic consultant, working for both prosecution and defence, on high profile cases such as the Brighton bombing, the Air India crash and the Oklahoma City bombing. He was due to testify to serious flaws in the conduct of the tests carried out on Martin McCauley, Niall Connolly and Jim Monaghan by US Embassy officials that were later alleged to have proved positive for explosives.

One of the main planks of the prosecution case has been to try to show that FARC technology has changed since 1998, and to say that the IRA is responsible for this. Borer was also due to testify, on the basis of thorough research, refuting this allegation. He will say that, having examined all the evidence available, there are, in fact, no hallmarks of IRA technology evident in FARC's weaponry.

The court heard on Tuesday that one of the three Irishmen accused of training FARC guerillas was actually in Cuba on one of the dates specified. International development worker Ross O'Sullivan, who had travelled from Ethiopia, told the court that he has spent two Christmases with Niall Connolly and his family in Cuba, in 1999 and 2000. An alleged FARC supergrass had earlier told the court that he had seen Connolly and the two other Irishmen training guerillas in December 2000.

Dr Seán Ó Domhnaill, a psychotherapist, gave evidence of having seen Martin McCauley inIreland every week to ten days between February 1999 and June 2001.

On Wednesday, Síle Maguire, First Secretary of the Irish Emassy in Mexico, was due to testify that she was at a dinner in Cuba with Niall Connolly on dates specified by Colombian supergrass John Alexander Rodriguez Caviedes. Backing up this refutation of the prosecution witness's evidence is an affidavit by Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe, who was also at the dinner as part of an all-party pariamentary delegation from Ireland.

Among those observing the trial are human rights activist Paul Hill, parliamentarians Sean Crowe TD and Senator Mary White and human rights lawyers from the United States, Australia and Europe. The trial began in Bogota on 16 October 2002. There have been two further sessions since, in December 2002 and in February of this year. A further hearing took place in the city of Medellin in March to hear the evidence of one of the prosecution witnesses.

Defence witnesses also include writer and republican ex-prisoner Laurence McKeown; and Catherine Murphy and Michelle Devlin, who produced a video that will be submitted in evidence.

More than 60 sworn affidavits will also be presented in court from a broad range of people including Jim O'Keeffe; Deirdre Davitt, Deputy Director of Foras na Gaeilge; and the employers of Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley. The hearing is expected to last until Thursday.

Bring Them Home campaign spokesperson Caitríona Ruane said before the trial resumed that "a number of key witnesses will testify, including independent forensic expert Dr Keith Borer. Irish diplomat Síle Maguire and other witnesses will provide evidence to refute the testimony of prosecution witnesses, who falsely stated that the men were in Colombia on a number of specified dates between 1998 and 2001."

The court will also be shown a video shown on RTE News in February, which proves that Jim Monaghan was making a presentation on peace and reconciliation in Belfast on one of the dates alleged.

"Since this trial began in October," said Ruane, "the Colombian authorities have not produced even one credible witness; instead the case has been marked by political interference at the highest levels, including President Uribe, and gross inconsistencies from already discredited witnesses. It is time that these farcical proceedings were brought to an end."

Ruane welcomed the fact that Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen has expressed "serious concern" about prejudicial statements made pre and during the trial. Cowen met with the Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister in Athens on 28 March and repeated his strong concern about such statements, emphasising that the men must be considered innocent until proven guilty and that they should be judged solely on the evidence before the court.

"We are calling on the Irish government to stand up for the rights of the Irish citizens and intervene with the Colombian authorities to bring these men home," said Caitríona Ruane. "The dogs on the streets can see that there is no evidence against the men and that the Colombian authorities are dragging this case out."



Sinn Féin welcomes minister's comments




Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe, who is in Colombia as an observer at the trial, has welcomed last week's statement from the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Tom Kitt, acknowledging the serious concerns that exist in relation to the continued detention of the three Irishmen.

Kitt had acknowledged on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs "that observers and supporters of the men who have attended the trial have expressed serious concerns about statements made by senior Colombian figures that, in our jurisdiction, would be regarded as prejudicial to the interests of the three men.

"While it may not be uncommon in some jurisdictions for the media and others to speak about trials before they start and while they are going on, the Minister and the Department have expressed serious concern at these comments, and have made clear to the Colombian authorities our insistence that the men receive a fair trial," he said.

"Moreover, in his meeting with the Colombian Foreign Minister last week, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, repeated our strong concern about such statements, emphasising that the men must be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that they should be judged solely on the evidence before the court."

Sean Crowe welcomed the fact that the government has raised the issue of the prejudicial comments made about the men with the Colombian authorities. "Since these men were arrested the Attorney General in Colombia has said they are guilty," he said. "A former President of the country, Mr Pastrana, has said they are guilty. The current President, Mr Uribe, has said they are guilty. The head of the armed forces has said the men are guilty. And only last week Colombian General Moro and a number of parliamentarians said the men were guilty.

"I will be visiting Colombia for the third time next week. Since I first attended the trial some months ago not one shred of credible evidence has been produced against these men. They are being held in appalling and dangerous conditions.

"It is clear from the minister's comments that the government believes that the men's trial has been prejudiced. As a consequence, I would ask the government to demand the immediate release of the three men as it is very obvious that they cannot and will not be given a fair trial in Colombia - no matter what assurances they are given by the authorities there."



Human rights award for legal team


Alirio Uribe MuÒoz of the Colectivo Jose Alvear Restrepo (Colombia), the legal team representing the three Irishmen, received the 2003 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders at a ceremony on Monday 31 March in Geneva.

"The award is a clear message of recognition and hope for all the human rights defenders, who - like Alirio - risk their lives every day in denouncing grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law and by fighting against impunity that is rampant in Colombia," said the prizegivers. "The work of human rights defenders is indispensable in the light of massive violations of human rights in Colombia: in 2001 alone, there were 3,366 political killings, 775 cases of disappearances and over 300,000 forced displacements, while the situation during 2003 continued to deteriorate."
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