Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has spoken of “a historic moment” in the Basque peace process after the ETA armed group announced a definitive end to the organisation.
The Basque Country, which lies between France, Spain and Catalunya, has historically been a distinct nation. Founded in the late 1950s, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, ‘Basque Homeland and Liberty’) fought a guerrilla campaign for independence since 1968 which has often drawn comparisons to the IRA in Ireland.
“ETA has completely dissolved all its structures and has ended its political project,” said the organisation’s letter, dated April 16th. “ETA has decided to end its historic cycle and role, bringing to a close its journey,” it said.
In 2011, inspired by the Irish peace process, ETA announced a definitive ceasefire. In April 2017, the group held a disarmament event in the south of France.
“Years of confrontation have left deep wounds and we have to give them the chance to heal. Some are still bleeding, because the suffering is not in the past,” read the disbandment letter.
This week’s move was widely welcomed, but drew a hostile response and statements of intransigence from elements of the Spanish establishment.
Mr Adams, who is in the French Basque Country attending an international conference on the process, praised those who had worked to bring the conflict to an end.
“This is a historic moment for the people of the Basque country. I want to welcome the announcement by ETA and commend all of those who worked for and created this wonderful opportunity to build peace,” he said.
“On a personal note, I want to remember my friend Fr. Alec Reid who played a pivotal role in the Irish peace process and then spent many years travelling here to help foster the conditions for the momentous progress we have witnessed in the last 24 hours. He would be very pleased with developments.
“So too will the Rev Harold Good who also has been a champion for peace here and in Ireland.
“The Basque peace process and the courageous steps that have been taken over recent days, and years, like the Irish peace process, are an example of what is possible when people of goodwill never lose hope and never give up.
“I would urge the Spanish and French governments to embrace the new opportunities that now exist. The Spanish government could send a very positive signal of intent for a new future today by agreeing to transfer the several hundred Basque prisoners to prisons closer to their homes. This would not be a sign of weakness but a positive sign of compassion and compromise, especially to the families of those prisoners.
“The issue of victims in a peace process is also hugely important. Reconciliation and healing and dealing thoughtfully and compassionately with the past, is an integral part of any conflict resolution process. People on all sides have been hurt. But anger is not a policy. Revenge is not an option.
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Bobby Sands MP. Bobby once wrote; ‘Let our revenge be the laughter of our children’. That is my wish for the people of the Basque country and the Spanish state.”