IRA suspects set free in Colombia
From CNN Correspondent Karl Penhaul
BOGOTA, Columbia (CNN) -- Three suspected members of the Irish Republican Army who were accused of training Colombian rebels in terrorist tactics have been set free from a Bogota prison, a spokesman at the Chief Prosecutor's Office said.
The whereabouts of the trio -- Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley -- were not immediately known. The three left Bogota's La Modelo prison at about 4:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. ET) on Tuesday.
The three had been arrested in August 2001 on charges of training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in "terrorist" tactics.
They were cleared of those charges in April, but found guilty on a lesser charge of possessing false passports. They were sentenced to time already served, parole and a fine of $6,884 each.
The Colombian government appealed the acquittal of the terrorist charges, and the Irishmen were ordered to remain in the country pending the outcome of the appeal.
On advice of their lawyers, the three opted to remain in the high security wing of Bogota's La Modelo prison, fearing they could be killed if they left the prison.
Pedro Maecha, a lawyer for one of the men, said that the legal team had filed a request to a Colombian court last Thursday for the Irishmen to be permitted to leave the country pending the appeal.
The Colombian government said last week it was willing to let them return to Ireland during the process -- if the court agreed and Irish authorities guaranteed they would be returned to Colombia.
During the two-and-half-year trial that led to the men's acquittal on the terrorist charges, the trio admitted they had met with FARC leaders during a failed peace process between the rebels and the government but they denied any involvement in training the guerrillas.
If found guilty of the more serious charges, the men could have faced 22 years in prison.
The three have said they were in Colombia to study the peace process between the government and FARC.