By Jack Holland
The attorney general of Colombia has received new testimony from defectors from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that they were trained by members of the Provisional IRA, according to a reliable source.
The source also said that Irish authorities arrived in Colombia in December to compare manuals allegedly found on three Irish men arrested in Bogota last August with IRA training manuals.
Meanwhile, Irish and Colombian newspapers are reporting this week that one of the defectors, described as a driver for a top FARC commander, has affirmed to prosecutors that the three men — Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley — attended a meeting with FARC leader Manuel Marulanda dressed in combat fatigues.
Two other defectors are reported as saying that they were trained in the use of anti-personnel mines by McCauley and Monaghan.
The reports have appeared in the Dublin Evening Herald, the Belfast Irish News, the Colombian El Espectador and the London Times.
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Colombian authorities are cited as claiming the IRA has been involved with FARC for about 10 years, sending up to 25 members — many of them high-ranking — to Colombia in that time.
Sources suggest that Cuba provided the link between the IRA’s Central and South American contacts and the IRA. One of those arrested in August, Connolly, had been the Sinn Fein representative in Cuba since 1995. Cuba is thought to have extensive links with FARC and other leftist revolutionary organizations in the area, providing their wounded members with hospital facilities, among other things.
It is alleged that IRA leader Brian Keenan was eager to build a network of connections between the IRA and South and Central American left-wing revolutionary groups. Keenan became active in the IRA leadership in the early 1990s after serving a long prison sentence for offenses linked to the IRA bombing campaign in Britain. He is seen as one of the more hard-line IRA leaders, with strong Marxist leanings.
The latest allegations have further deepened the controversy surrounding the arrests of Monaghan, Connolly and McCauley, with officials in the U.S. administration warning Sinn Fein and the IRA to break off any links they may have with FARC, which they describe as a narco-terrorist group. Currently, the House Committee on International relations is investigating the allegations. A spokesman for Massachusetts Rep. Bill Delahunt, who is leading the investigation, said it would not comment on the latest claims until they “verified the facts.”
The U.S., which sees Colombia as a key to winning the war on international drug trafficking, is particularly sensitive to any links between terrorist organizations there and those elsewhere. It has poured $1.3 billion into the fight against Colombian narco-terrorist groups. Last December alone, the Senate approved $350 million to support the Colombian government in its long battle against guerrillas and drug traffickers.
FARC is among the most powerful of the Colombian groups. Last year, it reportedly established “kidnapping commissions” devoted solely to kidnapping individuals throughout Colombia. It also protects drug traffickers and coca growers.