A permanent ceasefire announced by Basque pro-independence organisation Euskadi Ta Askatasuna [Basque Homeland and Freedom] has gone into effect.

The historic announcement brings to an end the organisation’s four-decade armed campaign for independence from Spain and France.

ETA said on Wednesday hat the move was designed to “drive forward a democratic process... in which our rights as a people are recognised” in the Basque Country.

Efforts have intensified in recent years to kick-start a conflict-resolution process in the Basque Country.

Strongly supported by the Basque left, the peace process has been eaded by the banned political party Batasuna.

ETA has confined its armed campaign in recent months in a bid to aid the developing process.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams described the ETA announcement as opening “an opportunity of historic proportions” for the Basque Country.

Mr Adams, Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and policing spokesman Gerry Kelly praised the announcement at a party press conference in Belfast.

Mr Kelly recently returned from a visit to the Basque Country to help the conflict-resolution process.

Belfast priest Alex Reid, who has played key roles in both the Basque and Irish peace processes, said ETA had taken “courage and inspiration” from the Irish peace process.

“The people were in a hole, were in despair, and they would look to Ireland and they see what Ireland was able to do, and that lifts them and kind of tells them that, ‘if they can do it, because their conflict is very old and very difficult, we can do it’,” said Fr Reid.

Mr Adams said there was now “a particular onus on the Spanish government to respond positively and creatively”.

“Sinn Féin has been in dialogue with all the Basque political parties, in particular with Batasuna, and in the past I have written to Spanish prime minister Jose Zapatero recommending a conflict-resolution process,” Mr Adams said.

“Our objective has been to promote dialogue, to promote a settlement and to assist in whatever way we can the development of a peace process.

“ETA’s announcement provides all sides to the conflict there with an opportunity of historic proportions. The announcement gives a very considerable boost to the development of a conflict resolution process. It’s very much incumbent on all sides, and in particular on the Spanish government, to grasp this opportunity and to do everything to make political progress a reality,” said the Belfast West MP.

Mr Adams said the issue of political prisoners must be central to any resolution.

“It’s not up to us to negotiate these matters but clearly the release of prisoners is part of any conflict-resolution process, but humanity would demand that, at the very least, that the families are treated properly in the meantime,” he said.

The Sinn Féin president said he had recently briefed the British and US governments, as well as the Taoiseach, about the opportunities for progress in the Basque Country.

Martin McGuinness said inclusive political dialogue was central to exploiting the potential of ETA’s move.

“Direct dialogue and negotiations are absolutely vital and essential,” he said.

“It was President Clinton who constantly reiterated his view that many conflict resolutions throughout the world can learn something from the resolution of the conflict here in Ireland. The key foundation stone is that people have to accept that there must be meaningful dialogue and real negotiations to resolve deeply rooted political conflicts,” he said.

The following is the full statement by ETA:

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna has decided to declare a permanent ceasefire from March 24, 2006.

The aim of this decision is to drive forward a democratic process in Euskal Herria [the Basque Country] in order to build a new framework in which our rights as a people will be recognised and to ensure the future development of all political options.

At the end of that process, Basque citizens should have their say and decide on their future.

The Spanish and French states must recognise the result of this democratic process, without any kind of limitations. Whatever decision we take as Basque citizens should be respected.

We call on all those involved to act responsibly and be consistent with the step being taken by ETA.

ETA calls on the authorities of Spain and France to respond positively to this new situation, setting aside repression.

Finally, we call on Basque citizens to become involved in this process and fight for the rights that we as a people deserve.

ETA has shown its desire and will that the process now begun should reach its conclusion and thus achieve true democracy for Euskal Herria, overcoming long years of conflict and building a peace based on justice.

We reaffirm our commitment to continue taking steps in the future in accordance with that will.

Overcoming the conflict, here and now, is possible. That is the desire and will of ETA.

Euskal Herria, March 2006.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna

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