IRA arms did go to Colombia, says rebel

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The Northern Ireland peace process was thrown into jeopardy last night, according to hardline unionists, because a guerrilla deserter claimed that IRA members had provided weapons and training with explosives to Colombian rebels.

According to the attorney general's office in the Colombian capital, Bogota, the deserter said that the three Irish men who are being held in the South American country had smuggled missiles and launchers on to two small planes more than two years ago.

The arrest of three alleged IRA men in Colombia last year on suspicion that they were providing explosives training for the Marxist group, FARC, injured efforts to cement Northern Ireland's peace process.

However, the three detained men, Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, insist they had visited the rebel sanctuary to study Colombia's peace process. The testimony of the deserter, identified only as "Alexander" for security reasons, to officials from the attorney general's office, and first reported today in the news magazine, Cambio, rejects this supposed alibi.

Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said: "This has done immense damage to the peace process."

The Colombian army's chief, Jorge Enrique Mora, said he believed Colombia's biggest rebel army had terrorism training from foreign groups and the insurgents had used the techniques in recent attacks on Colombia's infrastructure.

FARC has blown up dozens of power pylons in recent weeks, and have caused electricity rationing in some parts.