Colombia pidió extradición de trío vinculado al IRA

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia is demanding that Ireland hand over three Irish Republican Army-linked fugitives convicted of supporting terrorism in this South American country. The trio unexpectedly turned up in Ireland after eight months on the run.
The fugitives’ public re-emergence on Friday plunged the Northern Ireland peace process into disarray. There was suspicion the three returned to Ireland because they felt authorities would not deport them in light of the IRA’s recent pledge to disarm completely.
Colombia’s vice president insisted Friday that Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has the «legal and moral obligation» to extradite the men, even though the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
«A Colombian court issued its verdict that confirmed what we believed from the start: that they were three IRA terrorists, explosives experts, who came to Colombia to train» Marxist rebels in urban terrorism techniques, Vice President Francisco Santos said in a statement.
Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan disappeared in December after a Colombian appeals court reversed an earlier acquittal and sentenced the men to 17 years in prison for training guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
It had been thought they were hiding in Cuba or Venezuela.
But in an interview with Irish state television RTE broadcast Friday, Monaghan said all three had returned to Ireland recently «and, as you can imagine, a lot of people in a lot of countries had to help us.»
Monaghan did not provide details of how the three evaded the international arrest warrants facing them. He claimed no deal had been done with either the British or Irish governments for their return and that he did not consider himself «on the run.»
Dublin and London on Friday both denied any prior knowledge of the three men’s return. Officials in both countries insisted that the Colombia case had not formed part of negotiations that prompted the IRA last week to declare its 1997 cease-fire permanent.
Irish authorities said they would consider an extradition application from Colombia. Britain said the three would be arrested and deported if they set foot in the United Kingdom.
The trio were captured at Bogota’s airport in 2001 in possession of false travel documents after spending five weeks in a FARC stronghold deep in southern jungles. Military officials believe they helped the rebels develop bombs formed out of gas cylinders.
The men, who say they traveled to Colombia only to observe the country’s now-defunct peace process, spent 34 months in prison before a June 2004 court acquittal. The judge, however, demanded they remain in Colombia pending a state appeal to a higher court.
By the time the first ruling was overturned in December, Colombian authorities embarrassingly acknowledged they had lost track of them.
In Northern Ireland on Friday, leaders of the British Protestant majority said the timing between the IRA peace decision and the men’s return was too suspicious to be a coincidence and demanded Ahern turn the men over to Colombia.
«These men are on-the-run terrorists,» said Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionists, Northern Ireland’s largest party.
But Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, welcomed the men’s return to Ireland as «a great relief» and said he hoped «they can now get on with their lives.»
Colombia’s Santos insisted that the Northern Ireland peace process should not be allowed to impede the men’s extradition.
Ahern «must demonstrate his country’s commitment to the global fight against terrorism,» Santos said.

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