10 January 2002 Edition

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Andrews to visit Colombia Three


Former Dublin Foreign Affairs minister David Andrews this weekend travels to Bogota, Colombia, accompanied by Caitríona Ruane of the Colombia Three campaign, Bring Them Home, to visit with Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly. They will be joined by Mexican Irish embassy official Síle Maguire.

The visit follows meetings between the families of the three men and the Dublin government. The families had called on Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen to do their utmost to bring the three home, expressing their concerns for the safety of the men and their fears that the three cannot receive a fair trial in Colombia. Similar concerns were expressed by the Colombian lawyers for the men when they met with senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Andrews, who has described his trip as a "factfinding" mission, also has a personal relationship with the Connolly family, and is their constituency TD.

They will also meet with the United Nations, which has a permanent office in Bogota. It is known that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has taken an active interest in the men's situation. Andrews and Ruane will also meet with the International Red Cross, Colombian government ministers and the country's most senior prosecutor. Andrews will report back to the Dublin government on his return.

Martin McCauley's wife Cristin welcomed Andrews' visit on behalf of the families. "We are delighted that David Andrews is going out and we hope that his visit will help secure the men's safe return home," she said. McCauley called for politicians who have a genuine concern for human rights to support the call for the men's immediate release and return home on humanitarian grounds.

The men were last week moved from the Dijin police holding centre back to the notorious La Picota jail. They were moved because, under Colombian law, no prisoner is supposed to be held for longer than 36 hours in Dijin. However, in a worrying development, the prosecutor in their case has now requested that the men be moved yet again, this time to Valedupar prison in the north of the country, a 16-hour drive from Bogota. The stated pretext for the move is fears that the men might escape, but their lawyers have expressed concern that any such move would isolate the men and severely impair access for their legal teams. One of the lawyers is to take the almost unprecedented step for a defence lawyer in Colombia (due to the personal danger involved) of appearing on national television to protest the move, arguing that such a move would be unprecedented as Valedupar is not a remand prison and that it would serve to deprive the men of their defence.

Spokesperson for the campaign, Caitríona Ruane says that as the men will be tried in Bogota, they should be held there too. She also expressed concern for the men's safety and about their isolation from international visitors should they be moved.

Ruane also rubbished a claim in the Evening Herald on Monday that more witnesses had come forward to testify against the men. "Over the past couple of months a series of false witnesses have been produced," she told An Phoblacht, "and all have been compromised and discredited under cross examination by the men's lawyers."

Interestingly, the Gardaí, who have been in touch with the Colombian authorities since the men were arrested last summer, said that they were unaware of any vital new evidence.

An Phoblacht
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