A U.S. congressional committee has heard testimony about alleged assistance by the Irish Republican Army to Marxist rebels in Colombia. A senior Colombian military official told lawmakers on Wednesday Colombia faces an uphill struggle against groups using drug money and recruiting foreigners to finance and support their terrorist operations.
Appearing before the House International Relations Committee, the chairman of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff said foreign terrorists have come to Colombia, financed by drug profits flowing to the main rebel group the Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
General Fernando Tapias said terrorists from Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Germany are known to have been in Colombia. But Wednesday's hearing focused on the controversy surrounding alleged training of Colombian rebels by current or former members of the Irish Republican Army.
In a new report, congressional investigators say three Irishmen arrested in Colombia in August 2001 were probably there to assist the FARC.
Lawmakers questioned General Tapias who, speaking through a translator, described Edward Campbell Joseph (alias James Monahan), one of the three Irish nationals awaiting trial in Colombia on charges of training the FARC and carrying false documents
General Tapias said, "According to information we have from European authorities, he was part of the executive directorate of Sinn Fein until 1989."
The report, citing Colombian authorities, says as many as 15 IRA members, including weapons experts, visited rebel-held areas of Colombia since 1998. Since then, it says FARC has been using more sophisticated car bombs, as well as mortars, causing thousands of casualties.
Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, sent a letter to committee chairman Republican Congressman Henry Hyde in which Mr. Adams says neither he nor anyone else in the Sinn Fein leadership were aware the three men were traveling to Colombia.
Mr. Adams had been invited to testify at Wednesday's House committee hearing, but declined. An IRA statement said it has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia and will not do so.
Several members of the House committee sharply criticized the report's findings as weak, and said linking the IRA to Colombian rebels could undermine the Northern Ireland peace process.
House committee investigators say terrorists from Cuba, Iran, and possibly the Basque separatist group ETA have trained with the Armed Forces of Colombia.
In his remarks, General Tapias said the war in Colombia is now "fundamentally terrorist" in nature, and threatens the future of democracy in Colombia. He said, "This terrific onslaught of terrorist activities has been of extreme danger to the economy. It has sewed fear and terror in the heart of the citizens, and I would say it is attacking the very underpinnings of society in this year of elections."
One of the three Irishmen awaiting trial has been identified as the representative in Cuba of Sinn Fein. However, in his testimony, General Tapias said there is no evidence, to his knowledge, that Cuba is now linked in any way to terrorist activities in Colombia.
The House committee report says U.S. policy allowing military assistance to be used only for counter-narcotics operations should be re-assessed.
In a separate Senate hearing Wednesday, a senior state department official said the Bush administration is sticking to current assistance levels aimed at helping Colombian President Pastrana's anti-narcotics effort called "Plan Colombia."
Undersecretary of State for Political affairs, Marc Grossman, said Washington wants to see greater cooperation and support from Colombia's neighbors, saying other countries in the region cannot be "spectators."