- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

From Combined Dispatches


BOGOTA, Colombia Three suspected members of the Irish Republican Army arrested in Colombia 10 days ago were training Marxist guerrillas here in urban bomb warfare, a weekly magazine reported.
The story in Cambio cited a radio message from Jorge Briceno, military leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said to have been intercepted by military intelligence.
Mr. Briceno said the three men would train guerrilla forces in the use of the explosive Semtrex so that FARC could expand its offensive into the cities, Cambio reported in Sunday's edition.
"They have it and know how to use it," Mr. Briceno reportedly said, adding that he planned to obtain the explosive from IRA officials. "We need to spread this knowledge to various fronts."
The three men Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were arrested at Bogota's Eldorado airport on Aug. 11 as they attempted to leave for Paris after spending five weeks in Colombia, army officials said. Mr. Connolly, the official representative of Sinn Fein in Cuba, was traveling under the name David Bracken.
The army said the three men had been training FARC rebels in the use of explosives including car bombs and mortars from early July in the demilitarized zone where the 16,500-member-strong guerrilla group was based, perhaps in return for arms, cash or cocaine. Mr. Connolly also was accused of using false documents.
The magazine said Mr. Briceno's radio message was intercepted by a communications unit in Caqueta state, in southern Colombia, two days before the arrests. An army official confirmed on Sunday that the military collaborated with Cambio on the story, but provided no other details.
Colombia's 37-year civil war has been largely fought in the countryside, leaving the major cities for the most part unaffected. Military officials fear the FARC has plans to move into urban areas.
The arrests have deepened skepticism about peace efforts in both Colombia and Northern Ireland and fueled some suspicions that Cuba may have a role.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Mr. Connolly had lived in Cuba for five years as the Latin America representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA.
Niall Connolly "is the official representative of Sinn Fein in Cuba," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aymee Fernandez told reporters in Havana.
"We want to make it very clear that the presence of Mr. Connolly in Colombia has no connection with his official and legal activities in Havana," she said.
The three Irishmen reportedly told Colombian investigators they visited the FARC enclave to determine the status of peace negotiations between the group and the government.
Colombian officials will decide this week whether to deport, extradite or bring terrorism charges against the men, a court official told Agence France-Presse over the weekend.
News that one of the three was the representative of the IRA's political arm in Havana put the Cuban government in an awkward position. Cuba, along with Spain, France, Norway and Switzerland, belongs to a group of nations that has promised to assist Colombia's peacemaking efforts.
Cuban President Fidel Castro said in 1998 that the communist-ruled island had been a refuge and training ground for leftist guerrillas in the 1960s and 1980s.
Cuba's links to the IRA and the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or Basque Homeland and Freedom, have strained its relations with other countries in recent years.
But Mr. Connolly's reputed activities in Colombia would be out of step with the Cuban government's stance as a backer of the peace process in Colombia. Havana has hosted talks between representatives of the government of President Andres Pastrana and the National Liberation Army, the second largest rebel group in Colombia, as recently as this year.
Mr. Castro annoyed FARC leaders when at a 1999 summit in Rio de Janeiro, he stated: "Now is not the time for guerrillas in Latin America."
"In Colombia, guerrilla activity is justified because there is violence, hunger, unemployment, misery, disappearances, torture and murder," Mr. Briceno replied, days later.
Following the arrests in Bogota, the United States said the IRA could face U.S. penalties should it be determined the group had connections with Colombia's largest left-wing guerrilla army.
It was not known what impact, if any, the incident would have on a Latin American tour planned for next month by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. The tour was to include a stop in Cuba.
Sinn Fein has denied that the three men detained in Bogota are in any way related to them, but Cuba's assertion that Mr. Connolly was Sinn Fein's representative in Havana contradicts that denial.


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