BASQUE separatist group ETA declared a ceasefire yesterday in its bloody 42-year campaign for a homeland independent of Spain, vowing to give up guns and bombs to seek a democratic solution.
ETA, blamed for the deaths of 829 people in attacks on Spanish targets, said it decided several months ago that it “will not carry out armed offensive actions”. It did not specify if the ceasefire was temporary or permanent.
ETA made the announcement in a video sent to the BBC and pro-independence Basque daily Gara, showing three people in berets and yellow hoods sitting at a table flanked by Basque flags and an ETA symbol on the wall behind.
ETA has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009, and the authorities in Spain and France have arrested much of its top leadership.
“ETA confirms its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict,” said a woman sitting in the centre.
“In its commitment to a democratic process to decide freely and democratically our future, through dialogue and negotiations, ETA is prepared today as yesterday to agree to the minimum democratic conditions necessary to put in motion a democratic process, if the Spanish government is willing.”
The Spanish government reacted cautiously.
The Interior Ministry was still examining the declaration, a spokesman said.
Government officials were quoted in the El Pais newspaper as saying the declaration was a move in the right direction but ETA must still definitively abandon the armed struggle.
The paper quoted unidentified anti-terrorist sources as saying the ETA statement did not go far enough. “They do not announce the surrender of weapons nor the end of violence; it is not enough,” one source was quoted as saying.
ETA had been under pressure from its political allies to declare a truce.
Its political wing Batasuna plus its ally, the Eusko Alkartasuna party, had called on ETA to agree to a “permanent ceasefire under international verification” in a document outlining a “road map” for a peace process, Spanish media reported on Friday.
ETA, which carried out its first deadly attack on June 7, 1968, announced a “permanent ceasefire” in March 2006 but in December 2006 set off a bomb at a car park at Madrid’s international airport.
After ETA formally called off the peace process in June 2007, the Spanish government stepped up its campaign, with arrests over the past three years of its leaders believed to have severely dented its operations.
Since the start of this year alone, Spanish police working with other forces including in France have arrested 68 suspected ETA members.
Spanish media say Batasuna, which has been banned from running for office since 2003 because of its ties to ETA, hoped to return to the political game ahead of local elections in 2011.
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