Agent testifies in closed-door Lithuania Real IRA arms trial

17th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Lithuanian intelligence agent was questioned Monday in the trial of an Irishman accused of trying to smuggle arms home to dissident paramilitary group the Real IRA, a defence lawyer said.

Ingrida Botyriene told AFP the witness spoke anonymously in a closed-door hearing in Vilnius.

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

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

The 37-year-old was arrested in Vilnius while meeting a Lithuanian agent who allegedly posed as an arms dealer. He denies the charges and claims he was set up.

There have only been a handful of sessions, with British and Lithuanian agents testifying. The next hearing is due Friday.

Four of the total 10 witnesses still have to give evidence. The defence has protested the slow pace of the case and conditions in his remand jail.

"He's doing fine, but the trial's dragging on. We'd like to see it speed up," Botyriene said.

Campbell 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.

Liam Campbell was detained in May 2009 in Northern Ireland on a Lithuanian warrant, but is fighting extradition.

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

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 killed 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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