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19 June 2003 Edition

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Colombia Three must come home

Defence lawyers for the three Irishmen facing charges of training FARC guerillas in Colombia have successfully secured the closing of the case pending final arguments. The prosecution had wanted to drag proceedings out for as long as another year.

Although they believe the case against Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan has been absolutely refuted, campaigners for the men remain concerned about the political pressure in Colombia to convict the men.

Judge Acosta has claimed tht he is immune to political pressure, but his refusal this week to accept documents presented to the court backing up the men's alibi evidence would seem to belie this statement.

The trial has now been adjourned pending the final summing up, which will take place from 28 July to 1 August.

On Tuesday, former hunger striker Laurence McKeown of Coiste na nIarchimí gave key alibi evidence for James Monaghan. Judge Acosta, however, for reasons he has yet to explain, refused to accept key documentary evidence supporting the three videos provided by the defence to prove that James Monaghan was in Ireland when a prosecution witness Edwin Geovanny Rodgriguez said that he saw the three men in Colombia.

The judge also refused to accept key documentation including work cards for Martin McCauley proving that he was in Ireland during the same period.

"It is very worrying that this documentation has been rejected by the court," said Bring Them Home spokesperson Caitríona Ruane on Wednesday. "However, the defence has refuted every allegation of the prosecution case in relation to the charge that the three Irishmen were training the FARC.

"If this case happened in any other country in the world, these men would be home with their families and not in one of the most dangerous jails in the world.

"The international delegation who have traveled to observe the trial are going to the jail this morning to visit the three men and have a meeting with the United Nations this afternoon to update them on the case and our concerns."

Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe is back in Colombia this week. He is more optimistic now than at any time in the past about the prospects of the men winning the case but he also cautioned against overoptimism.

"I would still be concerned that these men could still be the victims of a gross miscarriage of justice. The fact that the prosecution has fought this case all the way on a tissue of lies and misinformation does not bode well.

"There are still very many prejudicial statements against these men being made by senior establishment figures."

The Colombian authorities are facing serious questions as a result of the trial, as it has become increasingly clear that the prosecution and the Colombian military have been working in concert to school witnesses.

"We are calling on the Irish government and the international community to intervene with the Colombian authorities to ensure that the judge is free to make a decision based on the legal evidence presented to the court and free from political pressure from the Colombian authorities to convict the three Irishmen unjustly," said Ruane.

Individuals across the world are also being urged to write to their nearest Colombian embassy or consulate to express concern about the trial. The address for the Colombian honorary consulate in Dublin is: Camila, Brighton Road, Dublin 18. The Colombian embassy in England is at 3 Hans Crescent, SW1 London.

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