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Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK

World: Europe

The Irish connection

Basque separatist marchers urging a Irish style peace process

By Nic Newman

"Northern Ireland - Yes; the Basque Country - Yes too" - was the slogan chanted in towns and cities across the region earlier this year. The Good Friday peace deal signed in Belfast was held up as a model, a road map that could provide hope for the seemingly intractable struggle for Basque independence.

The BBC's Mark Devenport: IRA and ETA "United in struggle"
The similarities are striking, not least the timescale.

Both movements began their violent struggle in the late 1960s and over the years have used similar tactics; bombings, kidnappings and targeting of security personnel. Both ETA and the IRA have been engaged in a cat and mouse battle with the authorities, their leaders in and out of prison. And in Northern Ireland and Spain there have been allegations of government heavy-handedness and abuse of human rights.

But there are some key differences too with the Spanish government repeatedly warning against over-simplistic comparisons.

  • Whilst the Irish conflict is rooted in religion, the Basque struggle is, essentially, a non-sectarian battle for land, language and culture.

  • The IRA have been fighting to unify Ireland, the Basques have been trying to split away from Spain.

  • Many of the details enshrined in the Good Friday agreement are already in place in the Basque region. They already have their own assembly and elected representatives.

[ image: A Belfast mural spells out the messages of both movements]
A Belfast mural spells out the messages of both movements
Even so, the challenges that now face negotiators are likely to be similar.

As in Northern Ireland, the government will remain cautious in its response to the ceasefire until ETA makes clear the armed struggle is over for good.

The authorities will wish to see the handing in of weapons as an indication that ETA's motives are genuine. Decommisioning is still one of the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland

The issue of prisoners is also likely to be a stumbling block. Many of the leaders of Herri Batasuna (ETA's political wing) remain behind bars. But the early release of those responsible for atrocities will be politically difficult for the government - as it was in Ulster.

Advice from Sinn Fein

[ image: ETA's  flag flies at Irish Republican rally]
ETA's flag flies at Irish Republican rally
ETA said in a statement earlier this year that it admired the way an overall solution had been found in the Northern Ireland peace process and was ready to learn from it. Its political wing has been schooled by Sinn Fein on strategy for negotiation. In the past the IRA has referred to ETA's campaign as "the brother struggle".

Recent events in Northern Ireland have greatly influenced public opinion in Spain. Moderate Basque nationalist parties have repeatedly looked to Northern Ireland and have discussed the issues with politicians involved in the peace process there.

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