- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian government has arrested three Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrillas accused of training Marxist rebels how to build sophisticated bombs to target cities.

The accusations, leveled Monday following the weekend arrests in Bogota, prompted fears of a turn to urban terrorism by Colombia's largest insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Colombian authorities said the three guerrillas had spent five weeks in the 16,000-square-mile truce zone that the government ceded to the FARC as a peace gesture.

Defense Minister Gustavo Bell, in announcing the arrests on Monday, also said the presence of the IRA in the truce zone proves that the FARC has turned the zone into a sanctuary for international terrorism.

The charges against the suspects, identified by Colombian authorities as Martin John McCalley, William Monaghan and David Bracken, mark the latest blow to President Andres Pastrana's efforts to negotiate an end to the hemisphere's oldest Marxist insurgency.

In the 21/2 years since Mr. Pastrana gave rebels control of the truce zone, efforts to engage the FARC in peace talks have proved to be dismal failures.

The first two IRA guerrillas were positively identified, but Bracken appears to be an alias used by the most senior member of the group and the only one who speaks Spanish.

"What is important to note is that we have information evidently showing that FARC clandestine urban milicianos went to the Distension Zone to receive training from these Irish individuals," said one Colombian official.

On June 30 and July 1, the IRA suspects entered Colombia by different travel routes from Europe, said intelligence officials who offered additional details:

After making contacts with FARC urban guerrillas, known as milicianos, the suspects traveled to San Vicente del Caguan, the main city in the FARC-controlled truce zone, where they remained until Saturday.

The suspects were spotted giving explosives training to the FARC in two different training sites, one near the village of La Macarena and one near San Vicente del Caguan.

One of the primary missions of the suspects was to help the FARC improve its use of explosives and the accuracy of their mortars.

FARC mortars typically consist of propane gas cylinder tubes modified to fire smaller propane gas cylinders filled with explosives a system pioneered by the IRA two decades ago.

The suspected IRA instructors taught FARC artillery support squads how to adjust mixtures of charges to maximize the weapons' accuracy and lethal effect.

Earlier this summer, the FARC's military commander, who uses the name Mono Jojoy, publicly vowed to increase guerrilla attacks in cities.

Shortly afterward, Colombian military intelligence detected FARC attempting to find tactical specialists from other international terrorist groups, including the IRA.

Colombian intelligence sources said people of other nationalities, including Libyans and Palestinians, have been spotted in the Distension Zone helping the FARC in military training.

In return for IRA help, officials said, the FARC could be providing the IRA with anything from drugs to money to black-market arms.

Officials said tests on the clothing of the three turned up traces of four different kinds of explosives, as well as cocaine and amphetamines.

FARC rebels are involved in cocaine production in Colombia, which earns them hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.

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