Basque separatists ETA announce ceasefire

Sinikka Tarvainen

Madrid (dpa) – The militant Basque separatist group ETA on Sunday declared a ceasefire that left the Spanish government sceptical, but enthused separatists in the Basque region.

ETA decided several months ago not to “carry out offensive armed actions,” the group said on a video quoted by the BBC and the Basque newspaper Gara.

The ceasefire was part of attempts to launch a “democratic process” for the Basques to “freely” decide their future, according to a communique read out by one of the three masked ETA members who appeared on the video.

ETA did not say whether the truce was permanent or temporary.

Leire Pajin from Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist Party rejected ETA’s announcement as “clearly insufficient.”

Spaniards only wanted one announcement from ETA: “that it definitively lays down arms, that it dissolves itself and abandons violence once and for all,” Pajin said.

For Zapatero, ETA’s announcement was “very little,” government sources told the internet edition of the daily El Mundo.

The government of the autonomous community of the Basque Country also called the ceasefire insufficient, with Basque Interior Minister Rodolfo Ares saying on Sunday in Bilbao that the ETA declaration did not contain a definitive renunciation of its armed struggle.

He added that the police would proceed with its fight against the separatist organization.

Groups related to ETA, however, were enthusiastic. The ceasefire is a “contribution of unquestionable value to the establishment of peace,” representatives of the groups – which are known as the izquierda abertzale (patriotic left) – said in San Sebastian.

ETA’s announcement was preceded by the publication Friday of a document released by ETA’s political wing Batasuna, which forms part of the izquierda abertzale.

The document, which was backed by the small Basque party Eusko Alkartasuna, encouraged ETA to call a “permanent” ceasefire under international supervision.

Izquierda abertzale representatives on Sunday described the truce as “unilateral, indefinite and not subject to conditions.”

Decimated by police crackdowns, ETA has not carried out significant attacks for more than a year, and police experts had expected the group to call a ceasefire this month.

The government, however, had expressed scepticism over the eventual truce, fearing ETA could use it to rearm as it has done in the past.

ETA has killed nearly 860 people since 1968 in its campaign for a sovereign Basque state carved out of northern Spain and southern France.

On the video, ETA said that its armed struggle had created “new political conditions.”

Accusing Spain of a “fascist” campaign to eradicate separatism, ETA called for a “democratic solution” involving “dialogue and negotiation” so that Basques could freely decide their future.

The Spanish government, however, refuses to discuss the subject of Basque independence.

ETA’s violence is opposed by the vast majority of Basques. The group had come under increasing pressure from its sympathizers to switch from a military to a purely political strategy in the quest for independence.

Batasuna hopes that such a move would persuade Spanish courts to lift a 2003 ban on the party’s activities that prevents it from participating in Basque political life.

In the document published Friday, Batasuna proposed a Northern Ireland-style peace process between the government and ETA.

Spanish governments have made several failed attempts to negotiate with ETA, which has declared 11 ceasefires since 1981.

The truce announced Sunday was preceded by a “permanent” one in 2006. It lasted about nine months before being broken by a car bombing that killed two people at Madrid’s airport in December 2006.

ETA is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.