By Jack Holland
The House International Foreign Relations Committee has confirmed that it will hold a hearing on April 24 into the alleged links between the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia and the Provisional IRA.
A spokesman for the committee said that letters of invitation were sent late last week to five witness: Francis Taylor, U.S. ambassador-at-large and coordinator of counterterrorism at the State Dept.; General Louis Ernesto Gilibert, director general of the Colombian National Police; General Fernando Tapias, chairman of the Colombian Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein and MP for West Belfast.
The allegations sprang from the arrests of James Monaghan, Martin McCauley, and Niall Connolly in August last year as they left the rebel-controlled zone. Colombian authorities have alleged that the three, all with IRA and Sinn Fein links, were helping train FARC activists in the use of mortars and explosive devices to strike at army and police bases and economic targets in cities and town.
FARC, traditionally a rural based organization, has stepped up its attacks in towns and cities in recent months, killing about 70 soldiers and police officers, as well as dozens of civilians, between Jan. 14 and Feb. 25. In one attack alone, on Feb. 11, an explosive device struck the sleeping quarters of an army base, killing 11 soldiers.
Violence escalated when government forces moved into the FARC “no-go” zone last month.
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Authorities say that FARC is a criminal front, earning between $1 million and $2 million a day from drug trafficking.
Right-wing death squads have also been active, killing suspected guerrilla sympathizers. The three Irishmen have had to be moved several times from prison to prison for their own security.
Attempts have been made to dissuade the house committee from pressing ahead with the hearing, suggesting it would threaten the Irish peace process.
“It’s coming out anyway,” said an informed source, referring to upcoming trial of the three. “The Colombians have documents and witnesses.” He said that the whole episode has been embarrassing to the government of President Pastrana, which granted FARC the demilitarized zone in order to start the peace talks on which he staked his reputation. “The IRA took advantage of the DMZ.”
In January, General Tapias said that the presence of the IRA had been “fatal to the state.”