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Colombia charges suspected IRA members for training FARC rebels

From Journalist Karl Penhaul

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- Three men allegedly associated with the Irish Republican Army were formally charged Tuesday with illegally training FARC rebels in the use of weapons and explosives.

Police arrested the three men on August 11 at Bogota International Airport as they returned from a FARC-controlled demilitarized zone.

Niall Connolly, a Sein Fein representative, and alleged IRA members James Monaghan and Martin McCauley are charged with training illegal armed groups and using false documents to gain access to Colombia.

Each man could face nearly 30 years in prison if convicted.

The Colombian army alleges the three entered the country in June and spent five weeks in the demilitarized zone in southeastern Colombia, a Switzerland-size region that has been handed over to FARC for the purposes of peace talks with the government.

The army said the three were training FARC guerrillas in the use of explosives, the manufacture of car bombs, and the manufacture of homemade weapons, including mortars.

The 15,000-strong FARC has been fighting successive governments since 1964.

Colombia's three-way war between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary squads and the army has killed an estimated 40,000 people over the past decade.

The men are being held without bail and will soon be transferred to the maximum-security wing of the La Modelo prison, the chief prosecutor's department said.

Monaghan, also known as "Mortar" Monaghan because of his explosive expertise, and McCauley have both been in prison before on charges of IRA membership and terrorist activities.

They were captured in a joint operation between Colombian authorities and British intelligence officials.

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