Agent gives evidence in Lithuania Real IRA arms trial

21st May 2010, Comments 0 comments

An intelligence agent gave evidence behind closed doors Friday in the trial of an Irishman charged with attempting to smuggle arms to dissident paramilitary group the Real IRA, a lawyer said.

"We have started hearing evidence from a new witness who's testifying anonymously. I can only put two and two together, but it's clear to me that the person is a Lithuanian secret service operative," defence attorney Ingrida Botyriene told AFP.

The defendant, Michael Campbell, 37, is the brother of Liam Campbell, 46, one of four leaders of the Real Irish Republican Army found liable in 2009 for an August 1998 bombing in the Northern Irish town of Omagh which killed 29 people.

Agents involved in Michael Campbell's January 2008 arrest have been cross-examined in secret on the orders of the judge.

On trial since last August, he is accused of attempted weapons smuggling, illegal firearms possession and seeking to aid a terrorist organisation. He faces a 20-year sentence if convicted.

He was arrested in Vilnius while meeting a Lithuanian agent who allegedly posed as an arms dealer. He denies the charges, claiming he was set up.

Irish police and several British and Lithuanian agents have already given evidence. Three of the total 10 witnesses are yet to testify, and the defence has protested the slow pace of the case.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 28.

Liam Campbell is wanted in the same case. He was detained in May 2009 in Northern Ireland on a Lithuanian warrant, but is fighting extradition.

Botyriene said Michael Campbell's family ties were irrelevant. She noted he had never been charged with, let alone convicted of, membership of an illegal organisation.

The defence has also condemned his remand conditions.

Lithuania's jail system has been criticised in the past by international organisations, and a Northern Irish prisons inspector is due to visit the country next week, Botyriene said.

The Real IRA split from the Provisional IRA -- once the main Catholic armed group opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland -- in 1997 over the latter's support for peace.

The Omagh bombing failed to wreck an April 1998 accord halting most of Northern Ireland's "Troubles" -- three decades of violence pitting Catholics against pro-British Protestants and British forces that led to the deaths of at least 3,500 people.

The Real IRA returned to the spotlight in March 2009, claiming the fatal shooting of two British soldiers at a barracks in Northern Ireland.

© 2010 AFP

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