6 March 2003 Edition

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Colombian witness suffers 'memory loss'

BY JOANNE CORCORAN


The trial of Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley, and Jim Monaghan resumed on Tuesday in the city of Medellin with prosecution witness John Alexander Rodriguez Caviedes (20) giving evidence for the third time. This is the fifth hearing of the trial, which has stopped and started since it began on 4 October 2002.

The trial was forced to move from Bogota to Medillin for testimony from the alleged FARC informer, after the Witness Protection Programme claimed they could not afford the $200 to fly him to Bogota.

Caviedes claimed at yesterday's hearing that he was the driver and bodyguard of Fabian Ramírez, believed to be one of FARC's senior organisers. He also said he drove 'foreigners' around the former demilitarised zones controlled by the FARC, but couldn't give accurate descriptions of the three Irishmen.

Speaking on Tuesday, Caitriona Ruane, spokesperson for the Bring Them Home Campaign, who was in Colombia to observe the proceedings, said that Caviedes' evidence was riddled with inconsistencies.

"Each time he gives a different story, different dates and different types of training that he supposedly received," she said. "This man is not a credible witness.

"Today he said that in 1998 he was trained in rocket launchers and mortars, yet on 7 September he said that the training was in bombs and in gas cylinders. Later on in the testimony he said he was trained in explosives and dynamite.

"When asked when he joined the FARC, he said it was 21-24 December 1997, yet in a previous declaration he said it was on 17 January 1998."

In earlier statements, Caviedes has claimed that he saw Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley at specific times in the FARC controlled zones between 1998 and 2001. The defence has alibi witnesses and sworn affidavits for both men to prove that they were not in Colombia on those dates. Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe has given a sworn statement saying he was on an all-party delegation to Cuba and had dinner with Niall Connolly on a date on which that Caviedes claims he saw Connolly in Colombia.

Síle Maguire, First Secretary of the Irish Embassy in Mexico, was at the same function in Havana with O'Keeffe in January 2001 and will be giving evidence to that effect at the end of March.

When questioned by the men's defence lawyers about his contradictions, Caviedes said: "I do not have a head or brain that remembers everything, if I said what I said, it was because my head was astray."

"Having listened to Mr Caviedes today, it is patently obvious why the Colombian State did not want him giving evidence in open court with observers and press present and why they used the flimsy excuse that they could not afford the $200," Caitríona Ruane said.

"Mr Caviedes testimony raises serious questions about the Colombian justice system and their use of 'witnesses' who receive immunity from prosecution for giving state evidence."

The only two eyewitnesses the Colombian State has presented so far have perjured themselves. Last month, a video of Jim Monaghan was shown on RTE attending a course in Belfast on a date when another state witness, Edwin Geovanny Rodriguez, said that he was in Colombia.

"To date, the Colombian State has failed to provide one credible witness, yet three Irish citizens remain in one of the most dangerous jails in the world," Caitríona said.

"Nineteen months after being arrested, they are still being held hostage by the Colombian State.

"We are calling on the Irish government to call a halt to this farce, stand up for the rights of Irish citizens and intervene with the Colombian authorities to release these men now."

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