Colombia's Marxists 'using IRA techniques'

COLOMBIA’S most senior general said a change in tactics by the country’s Marxist guerrillas indicated that they were using new techniques taught to them by the IRA.

General Carlos Alberto Ospina said recent rebel attacks bore the hallmarks of methods learned from Irish republican terrorists.

"What we are now seeing with the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] is the direct result of training given by the IRA," he said.

Three Irishmen, Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan, were arrested in Colombia in August 2001 after a tip-off from British intelligence, as they stepped off a plane that had come from a FARC stronghold.

Connolly was Sinn Fein’s representative to Cuba, while Monaghan and McCauley had proven links to the Provisional Irish Republican Army and are believed to be explosives and mortar experts.

The three were acquitted on charges of training the Marxist rebels in explosives and terrorism techniques, but after an appeal by the prosecution they were sentenced to 17 years in prison in December last year, by which time they had fled. The men remain on the run.

Over the last month the guerrillas have stood and fought in the south-western province of Cauca, not melting into the jungles as they did before.

They have also deployed a new model of home-made mortar which bears an uncanny resemblance to the "barrack-buster" mortars used by the IRA.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the FARC are using IRA training," said a senior British officer with years of experience in Northern Ireland and knowledge of the 41-year Colombia conflict. "And it is not just in the fusing system on the mortars and other advances, but the use of snipers."

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