31/07/2003

Colombia three trial enters final stages

The trial of the three Irish men facing charges of training left-wing guerrillas in Colombia is entering its final stages as the lawyers for the defence make their final statements this week.

The three men facing charges relating to the training of left-wing FARC guerrillas made their first appearance in court in Bogota yesterday.

The men, Martin McAuley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, had previously refused to appear before the court because they claimed they would not receive a fair trial and that they feared for their safety.

However, in their televised appearance in court, all three accused denied the allegations levelled against them.

In his statement Mr McAuley denied the charges and said that he was not a member of the IRA. He said he had travelled under an assumed name to avoid "harassment and threats".

Mr Monaghan said that he had travelled to the FARC controlled region to discuss "conflict resolution" and denied the claim that he was an IRA member.

Mr Connolly was more forthright. He was highly critical of the trial, which he claimed had been used by the British government to undermine the Northern Ireland peace process.

The statements read out in court by the three men followed the prosecution’s summing up earlier this week. The legal team for the defence requested that their clients be allowed to make the statements, which is their right under the Colombian justice system.

All three men were detained travelling under false passports and have denied the charges relating to the training of FARC guerrillas in the region controlled by the Marxist group.

Although the case is expected to conclude this week, under the Colombia legal system the judge is not required to carry out sentencing for four weeks. The men were returned to their cells in La Modelo jail near Bogota while the judge ponders his verdict.

If found guilty the three men face a custodial sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but they would have the right of appeal.

(SP)

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