Government denies pressure from US

 

The Government has denied that there are any difficulties between it and the United States government over its handling of the "Colombia Three" affair.

Yesterday a Government spokesman acknowledged that the US government was watching developments in the case closely, but rejected weekend newspaper reports that the Government was coming under pressure from the US.

"It is correct that the United States are following developments in this case as are many other countries," a Government spokesman told The Irish Times.

"There is absolutely no foundation to any speculation that there is any difficulty in relations between Ireland and the United States."

He said that while the US was interested in the case, officials "understand our position".

Last Monday senior Government officials, on the instructions of the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, briefed the US ambassador James Kenny on the case, and the Government's situation regarding extradition, including the legal difficulties in the absence of an extradition treaty between the State and Colombia.

The Tánaiste Mary Harney announced on Tuesday that a European agreement on the transfer of prisoners could be used to require the three men, James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley, to complete their 17-year jail terms in Ireland.

Since the announcement, officials at the Department of Justice and the Attorney General's office have been examining various European and international treaties relating to the prevention of terrorism, prisoners and criminal law to see whether any could be applied to the cases of the "Colombia Three".

Gardaí are also examining domestic legislation to ascertain whether there is a potential breach of Irish criminal law regarding the activities of the men and their return to the State.

The US government has been publicly silent on the issue of the three men, with the exception of a statement last weekend that the three men were "fugitives" and it was a matter that "should and must" be pursued by the Colombian and Irish governments.

The Irish Times understands that the US embassy and other US agencies have been in close contact with their Irish counterparts on the case in the last week.

It is believed that the US state department wants to see the men jailed either in Colombia or in Ireland, and US officials have been pressing the Irish Government to examine all possible mechanisms, including international treaties and conventions, that might see the men being returned to prison or prosecuted.

It is also understands that the timing of the announcement of the return to Ireland of the "Colombia Three" on Friday August 4th caused significant annoyance and anger in Washington and within the Bush administration.

It came less than two days after the US president George Bush met his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe.

Terrorism topped the agenda at the meeting, which took place at Mr Bush's ranch at Crawford in Texas, during which they discussed Plan Colombia, a package of security, economic and judicial reforms currently being implemented.

Following the meeting, Mr Bush said that Colombia shared "our commitment to advancing economic growth, trade, and democracy in the Americas."