- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

The chairman of the House International Relations Committee wants top Colombian authorities, a U.S. State Department official and the leader of Sinn Fein to testify at a hearing on the Irish Republican Army's suspected training of Marxist rebels in Colombia.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, wants to know if the IRA's suspected involvement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, has threatened Colombian democracy and U.S. personnel in that country.
"We are interested in learning what the U.S. government believes were IRA activities with FARC narco-terrorists in Colombia, and what impact these activities have had on U.S. national interests including the threat to U.S. personnel on the ground and to Colombian democracy," Mr. Hyde said.
Asked to testify at a scheduled April 24 hearing are Gen. Fernando Tapias, chairman of Colombia's Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Luis Ernesto Gilibert, director of the Colombian National Police; Francis Taylor, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism; and Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein.
As many as two dozen suspected IRA members visited Colombia in recent years to train FARC terrorists, House investigators said.
The House investigation and scheduled hearing are an embarrassment to Sinn Fein, which has expanded its political base over the past few years with help from Washington. Sinn Fein has quietly assured U.S. political leaders that there is no evidence to document any IRA-sanctioned presence in Colombia.
But Colombian law enforcement authorities say FARC defectors have provided information and evidence linking the IRA to the training of the Marxist rebels.
Three suspected IRA members were arrested in August and held for trial in Bogota on charges of illegally training FARC rebels in the use of weapons and explosives. The men were arrested by Colombian police at Bogota International Airport as they returned from a FARC-controlled demilitarized zone.
Identified as Niall Connolly, a Sinn Fein representative, and accused IRA members James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, they were charged with training FARC members in the use of explosives and in the making of car bombs and homemade weapons, including mortars. They also were accused of using false documents to gain entry into Colombia.
Colombian authorities said they believed the three men entered the country in June, spending a month in a southeastern region of Colombia now controlled by FARC. They were captured in a joint operation involving Colombian national police and British intelligence officials.
The Office of the Public Prosecutor in Bogota completed its investigation this month much of it based on the testimony of a FARC informant into the suspected activities of the three Irishmen. Colombian police say the informant told them he was personally trained in explosives by Mr. McCauley and Mr. Monaghan over a 15-day period.
All three denied the accusations, saying they were in Colombia and visited the FARC-controlled region to study peace negotiations.
The IRA also denied that the three were representing the organization. Mr. Adams initially rejected claims linking the men to the Sinn Fein party or the IRA, but later acknowledged that Mr. Connolly had represented the party in Havana but without his authorization or knowledge.
FARC is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. The department has long considered FARC the most dangerous terrorist group in the Western Hemisphere. Since 1980, it has murdered 13 Americans and kidnapped more than 100 others, including three U.S. missionaries kidnapped in 1993 who are now believed dead.
Earlier this week, three FARC leaders were named in grand jury indictments handed up in U.S. District Court in Washington, accused of conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. It was the first U.S. indictment to name members of the rebel organization, which was established in 1964.
The IRA, which declared a cease-fire in Northern Ireland in 1997, had been described by the State Department as a terrorist group. It was formed in 1969 as a clandestine armed wing of Sinn Fein, a legal political movement dedicated to ridding Northern Ireland of British troops.
Involved in bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, extortion and robberies, the IRA has received financial assistance, training and arms from several groups and countries including Libya and, at one time, the Palestine Liberation Organization.


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