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Cuba Says No IRA Training on its Soil - 2001-08-18

Cuba has confirmed that at least one of three members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) arrested in Colombia this week had lived in Cuba. But, Cuban officials deny any link to the guerrilla training activities the three men are accused of carrying out.

Cuban Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aymee Hernandez read a statement to reporters in Havana, Friday, denying any Cuban involvement with the Colombian guerrillas. She said reports implying a connection were, in her words, "a lie."

She did confirm, however, that Niall Connolly, one of the three IRA members detained in Colombia on August 11, had lived in Cuba for five years and had served as the representative there of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm. However, she said Mr. Connolly's visit to Colombia was in no way related to his official activities in Cuba.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry statement said Sinn Fein is represented in Havana as a legally recognized political party in both Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams plans to visit Havana next month as part of a Latin American tour.

Colombian authorities suspect Mr. Connolly and the two other men arrested with him, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, were providing training to the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. The three men were arrested shortly after arriving in Bogota on a flight from the rebel-held territory in the southern part of the country.

Colombian investigators are questioning the men, but they have yet to make formal accusations against them.

Colombian press reports have speculated that the three men from Belfast, Northern Ireland, may have been helping the FARC develop more expertise in explosives, in preparation for a terrorist campaign there. The allegations come at a time when the peace process in Northern Ireland is once again stalled and the effort to end fighting in Colombia's 37 year-long civil conflict is also at a dead end.