Colombia to deport 'IRA' trio to Britain this week

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The Independent Online

The crisis for Sinn Fein over the arrest of three senior Republicans in Colombia deepened yesterday after it emerged the three men are likely to be deported this week.

Colombian judicial sources said the expulsion of the alleged IRA members Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley could take place by Wednesday, raising awkward diplomatic questions about their likely destinations.

Sinn Fein's embarrassment had already been heightened when the Cuban Foreign Ministry insisted that Mr Connolly, a fluent Spanish speaker, had been living in Havana as the party's official Latin America representative. The allegations were denied by Sinn Fein yesterday, but the timing of the claims could not be worse for Gerry Adams or the British Government, which is seeking to rescue the peace process from another crisis.

For Unionists, the revelations have further undermined Sinn Fein's claims that it embraces the peace process. They have also underlined suspicions which followed the IRA's withdrawal of its offer to decommission its arms and explosives.

Mr Adams is due to visit Cuba and meet Fidel Castro, a long-standing ally, during an official tour of Latin America this autumn. These links have alarmed Sinn Fein's supporters in the United States, where Cuba's Marxist regime is hated. The White House is now reviewing the status of the party and could ban it from fundraising in the US. Noraid, the republican fundraising organisation, has collected more than $5m (£3.5m) over the past seven years.

Sinn Fein yesterday played down the allegations by denying it had any official presence in Cuba. Francie Molloy, a Sinn Fein Northern Ireland assembly member, said: "I have been in Sinn Fein for over 20 years and I have never heard of Sinn Fein having a contact in Latin America or any particular role in it."

The Colombian authorities have failed so far to prove the three men were, as suspected, sharing expertise in mortar and bomb-making with the Marxist rebel group FARC. Mr Connolly has claimed he was in Colombia to study the peace process there. However, all three men face being charged with travelling on false passports, and then deported.

Colombians sources indicated the three would not automatically be sent to their countries of nationality. They could be flown to a country which they had visa rights to enter or the British or Irish governments could demand their extradition.

The Home Office refused to comment, but a Foreign Office spokesman played down the prospects of Britain seeking extradition, since it is thought none of the three face outstanding criminal charges in the UK. "We not sure how authoritative these reports are. We're not aware of anything official that they're about to be deported."