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Irish Nationalists Out on Bail

October 17, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Three Irish nationalists who escaped from a Northern Ireland prison in 1983 were freed on bail Friday while their extradition status is reconsidered.

Ruling on the same day that two leading Catholic and Protestant politicians were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in the Northern Ireland peace agreement, U.S. District Judge Charles Legge cited the release of political prisoners planned under the peace accord.

The three men were among 38 opponents of British rule who escaped from a prison in Northern Ireland in 1983. They were arrested separately in California a decade later, and have fought extradition on the grounds that their trials were unfair and they face political persecution in Britain.

In August 1997, Legge ruled against Terence Kirby, Kevin Artt and Pol Brennan, saying they were convicted for their crimes and nothing else. An appeals court last week blocked the deportation, saying the men should have a chance to challenge their original convictions.

Reconsideration of the extradition status could take some time, and in the meantime, prisoners ``similarly situated″ to the three men are to be released in Northern Ireland under terms of the agreement, Legge wrote. He said the men were unlikely to flee.

Artt and Kirby had been convicted of murder; Brennan was serving time for possession of explosives, which police said were used to blow up a Belfast shop.

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, urged the British government to drop the extraditions in the spirit of the peace process.

Mark Zanides, a Justice Department lawyer representing the British government in the case, said they will still argue for extradition.

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