Adams on Basque peace mission
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has told representatives in Iberia that dialogue and respect for political and democratic rights was the key to achieving peace in the region.
Mr Adams was speaking at a press conference in the Basque city of Bilbao alongside Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi.
The Sinn Féin leader is nearing the end of a three-day tour aimed at boosting the fledgling peace process between Basque nationalists and the Spanish government.
Mr Adams told the press conference that dialogue and negotiations between Batasuna and the Spanish government should begin “as soon as possible”. He also called for Batasuna to be brought in from the cold by the Spanish authorities.
He went on to praise Spanish president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and said it is time to be “brave and not waste time”.
“The process will be difficult, challenging and painful for some, but it is the right way,” Mr Adams said.
He added that peace was more important than elections.
The Sinn Féin leader has also met Basque socialist leader, Patxi Lopez and described the declaration of a ceasefire by the ETA rmed group on March 22 as an “historic opportunity for Spain”.
Mr Adams was also due to meet other political leaders during his visit to Bilbao, Madrid and Barcelona. A few weeks ago, a number of Batasuna leaders, including Arnaldo Otegi - who met the Sinn Féin leader at the airport when he arrived on Tuesday - were denied permission to travel to Ireland for talks with Sinn Féin representatives.
Mr. Adams welcomed the progress that has been made in the two months since ETA announced its permanent ceasefire. He said:
“The ETA cessation creates an unprecedented opportunity for a lasting and democratic resolution to a conflict that has affected the region for decades.
“For this opportunity to be realised, all sides must take risks, and all sides must engage positively and constructively.
“Inevitably there will be difficulties. It is the nature of this type of process.
“However, in my view none of the difficulties are insurmountable. Consequently, there should be no delay in the commencement of all party talks in the Basque Country. The fundamental causes of the conflict must be addressed by all parties in an open and inclusive manner.
“In Sinn Féin’s experience if progress is to be achieved political rights must be protected and upheld. Discussions between the participants, as well as all-party talks requires the lifting of the ban on Batasuna. This would be a common sense step as would the ending of legal proceedings against left nationalist political activists.
“Clearly there is an obligation on all sides to the conflict to state clearly that they will respect the outcome of all party talks. This means the Basques must have the right to decide their own future, peacefully, democratically and free from outside interference.
“The coming weeks will indicate whether all sides to the conflict are willing to take the risks that are required. I am confident that with political will the people of the Basque country and the Spanish state will find a way to resolve all these issues.”