Northern Irish man witnesses Basque terrorists Eta give up weapons (Belfast Telegraph)

Masked members of the Basque militant group Eta at a news conference

A Northern Ireland man has spoken of his key role in overseeing the decommissioning of weapons and bomb-making materials by Basque separatist group Eta.

Chris MacCabe is a member of the six-strong International Verification Commission, based in Amsterdam, appointed to monitor the ceasefire declared in 2011 by the militant group.

The commission is made up of politicians, political advisers and former diplomats but it is not recognised by the Spanish government, which has described the decommissioning as “theatrical”.

Eta has killed more than 800 people in four decades in its campaign for an independent Basque state comprised of four Spanish provinces and part of south-west France. The group was formed at the end of the 1950s by young Basque nationalists who opposed General Franco’s dictatorship.

Yesterday they decommissioned some of their arsenal in front of the verifiers and are now looking to negotiate to have 500 of its members, who are in prison, moved to Basque jails.

But the Spanish government refuses to negotiate, with Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz saying that Eta’s victims should not be forgotten. He added that it was “not verifiers that defeated Eta, but the Spanish police and Civil Guard”.

Chris MacCabe is a former political director of the Northern Ireland Office and former British Joint Secretary of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference. He has been involved in worldwide political conflict resolution for over 12 years including in Sri Lanka and Kosovo. He said the commission was “satisfied with the effectiveness of this act of decommissioning”.

“The sealing of the weapons was witnessed and filmed so there is no doubt that Eta has put a considerable quantity or ordnance beyond use. We regard this as a clear step on the way to complete disarmament,” he said.

“Since our commission was set up we have been able to verify that Eta has been effectively inactive for the past two years and we have had excellent cooperation in our work from the Basque Parliament.”

Eta has been linked to and has been compared to the IRA, with both organisations widely viewed as terrorist groups seeking independence.

There have been many parallels drawn between Northern Ireland and the Basque region, with many believing there are lessons in our peace process for its situation.

In the 1970s contacts between Eta and the IRA developed with the Basque group reportedly supplying them with explosives and weaponry.

It has continued links with Sinn Fein, whose president Gerry Adams said last night: “We have been working with them in the Basque region for some time. We are convinced they are serious. This is an indication of their seriousness and commitment.”

Former hunger striker Brendan Hughes took part in an amnesty campaign for Eta prisoners in Bilbao in 1990.

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