18 March 2006

Colombia army chief met RUC and British military

Daily Ireland

by Connla Young

The commander of the Colombian army held secret meetings with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British military officials while on a tour of military installations in the North, Daily Ireland can reveal.
The revelation has prompted British officials to deny that Colombian security forces are being trained by the “regular army” in the North of Ireland.
A spokesman said he was not aware if Colombians were being trained by members of the British special forces. General Jorge Enrique Mora met senior members of the RUC in Portadown and at their Knock headquarters in Belfast in 2000.
Confidential British government documents obtained by Daily Ireland reveal that General Mora also met with Peter Hain, the current British secretary of state in the North, while he was attached to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
During his five-day visit to Britain in August 2000, the Colombian general was introduced to former commander of the British army in the North General Roger Wheeler.
The general toured a facility used by the military to train army personnel before they are sent to the North.
While in the North, Mora, who was accompanied by other senior members of the Colombian military, received detailed briefings from senior members of the British security forces on the nature of joint police and army operations.
The detailed document revealed that neither human rights or collusion issues were brought up during the general’s visit to the North.
The South American visitors also met with former chief of the Northern Ireland Prison Service John Steel.
One month after the Colombian visit to Belfast, then British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam travelled to Colombia and met senior officials there.
The get-together took place just a year before three Irish men were arrested and charged with training left-wing guerrillas and travelling on false passports. Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McCauley, fled Colombia last year.
Although the PSNI refused to go into detail, Daily Ireland understands that a Colombian official met with the PSNI earlier this month in the North.
In recent years the relationship between Britain and the Colombian governments has been questioned by human rights groups.
The British government is believed by many to be providing the Colombian authorities with practical military help in their ongoing campaign against left-wing rebels.
In the past both governments have been accused of colluding with state sponsored paramilitaries in the murder of civilians.
Military authorities in both countries meet regularly and as late as 2004 General Carlos Ospina Ovalle of the Colombian army visited a number of British army installations.
A PSNI spokesman said: “Colombian officials have visited the PSNI on a number of occasions in the past and also visited the RUC.”

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