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Drugs arrest pair 'were threatened'
Two women held over suspected drug trafficking in Peru have claimed they were forced to act at gunpoint by Colombian gangsters.
A churchman who visited the pair in a police holding centre in Lima claimed the two women - Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, from Co Tyrone, and Melissa Reid, 19, from Lenzie near Glasgow - had no choice but to follow orders.
Sean Walsh, an Irish-American archbishop with the Eastern Catholic Church, said: "They told me that there were a group of Colombians that actually took them at gunpoint and threatened them."
The Archbishop said the women were held for a while by the gang before being taken to Morocco and back again to Peru.
"I don't know how that happened, and I don't know how they got over to Peru," he said. "There's no direct flight from Morocco, they go through Spain probably, but if they threatened them in some way that to me seems like a credible defence."
The pair are due to appear in court on Wednesday accused of attempting to smuggle an estimated £1.5 million of cocaine out of South America.
The Archbishop, who has been working with prisoners in Peru for several years, said he met with the two women for half an hour in the police offices of the holding centre.
"If they have been coerced or threatened as I think they are going to argue, then the fact that they physically had it in their possession may not mean that they were intentionally or wilfully doing it," he said.
The cleric said he believed the women would plead innocent on the basis of coercion. The Archbishop said he did not see the cells the women were staying in but believed they were being treated well, and said one of their chief concerns was for their families.
A former senior diplomat warned Peru was cracking down on crime and, if convicted, the women could face harsher new conditions ruling out parole. Michael Russell, who recently retired as Ireland's consul general in Lima, said the government was under pressure to push through "draconian laws" to assert more law and order.