RTÉ News has learned that the three Irishmen who were found guilty of training FARC rebels in Colombia have returned to Ireland.

Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan were sentenced to 17 years in prison after an appeal court reversed their earlier acquittal on the charge.

The men have been on the run from the authorities in Colombia since December 2004 when they were released on bail awaiting a court of appeal decision.

An international arrest warrant was issued for the men who were also found guilty of travelling on false passports.

In an exclusive interview with RTÉ News, Jim Monaghan confirmed that the men had returned to Ireland in the past few days.

However, he would not say how they got here. He said that they had got a 'lot of help from a lot of people' and that he would not endanger them.

Mr Monaghan said that no deal had been done with either the British or Irish governments for their return and that he did not consider himself to be on the run.

He said that he hopes the Irish Government will not place any obstacles in the way of the three staying in this country and that the Government would be 'very remiss' to send anyone back to a country like Colombia. He also stated he would not be hiding from the gardaí.

Mr Monaghan said that he was not prepared to return to Colombia if the men lost their appeal in their case and that the three men will be seeking legal advice about the possibility of extradition back to the country.

he does not believe that their return to Ireland will damage the peace process. However, he acknowledged that the United States would not be happy with their reappearance in Ireland.

Mr Monaghan denied that the three had gone to Colombia to train FARC rebels. He claimed that they visited the country in good faith to learn about the peace process there, saying that he had no opinion on FARC and that he was not going to get into condemnation.

A Government spokesperson said the issue was not part of discussions with Sinn Féin and that it had no prior knowledge of the men's return to Ireland.

The Tánaiste, Mary Harney, who is acting as Justice Minister, said there were 'very serious issues' as to how the three were able to return to this country, particularly on fraudulent passports.

The Northern Ireland Office said it had only just become aware of the return of the three men and warned that if they crossed the border into the North they would face extradition.

Kenny demands clarification from Taoiseach

The Fine Gael Leader, Enda Kenny, has demanded an immediate statement from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice on the circumstances surrounding the men's return.

He also asked the Taoiseach to clarify whether this issue was part of the negotiations between the Government and Sinn Féin in the run up to the recent IRA statement on its future intentions.