By Jack Holland
In what is seen as a significant move, the U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, has been invited to testify at the House International Relations Committee hearing on the alleged links between the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia and the IRA. The letter of invitation from the chairman of the committee, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, also indicates that the hearing will have an extensive scope to look at “global terrorist networks and the drug money that finances them.”
The invitation to testify (dated March 21) was one of five sent out in the last two weeks to two senior security figures from Colombia, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, and Francis Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for counter-terrorism.
The invitation comes amid reports that Rep. Ben Gilman, who is a member of the HIRC committee, is unhappy with its decision to hold the hearing. According to the Rev. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus, Gilman is “not supporting” the hearing, which is due to take place April 24.
Gilman, who did not return calls asking for confirmation of the report, is known to be a staunch supporter of both the Colombian government and Sinn Fein. He had previously expressed anger at the prospect that the IRA might be involved with FARC and at one stage his aides said he supported hearings into the matter.
What is known is that Sinn Fein and its supporters are unhappy with the decision to go ahead with the hearing, which was touched off by the arrest of three men with IRA and Sinn Fein links in Colombia in August last year. Colombian authorities allege that they were training FARC in the use of mortar technology and explosives. Supporters of the three men, James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley, allege they were there to study the Colombian peace process and have been set up by the authorities.
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Sinn Fein leader Adams said Monday that he is keeping an “open mind” over the invitation to testify, but that he has not yet received the letter, which was posted on March 13.
“When I receive the letter, I will consult with colleagues and we will take it from there,” he said.
In his letter to Ashcroft, Hyde cites Colombian military reports that “the Basques, Cubans, North Koreans, Iranians and IRA terrorists have been operating in a safe zone, twice the size of New Jersey, which FARC once controlled.”
Hyde has been outspoken in his campaign to investigate the activities of FARC and its alleged links. In a letter to McManus, also dated March 21, he wrote: “It is difficult for me to understand why you, or anyone else concerned about the Irish peace process would want to close your eyes to these realities and serious events unfolding in Colombia.”
Hyde told the press that FARC’s tactics involving the use of car bombs and mortars had taken a “quantum leap” in the last two years.
The Colombian government has moved into the former “no-go” zone and the violence has escalated drastically both from FARC and right-wing death squads. Two weeks ago, gunmen murdered the archbishop of Cali, who was known as an outspoken critic of both the drug traffickers and the terrorists.