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Basque separatists declare permanent cease-fire with Spain

The Spanish government reacts coolly to ETA's announcement, mindful of past failures. More than 800 people have died in the group's push for Basque independence.

January 11, 2011|By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times
  • Representatives of an outlawed pro-Basque independence party address a news conference in San Sebastian, Spain, following the declaration of a permanent cease-fire by the Basque separatist group ETA.
Representatives of an outlawed pro-Basque independence party address… (Reuters )

Reporting from London — The Basque separatist group ETA declared a permanent cease-fire with Spain on Monday, saying it was committed to abandoning its armed struggle for an independent homeland in favor of "dialogue and negotiation."

But the announcement was greeted coolly by the Spanish government, which repeated its demand that the militant organization instead surrender its weapons and dissolve itself. Madrid is mindful of the failure of such truces in the past, including a "permanent" cease-fire ETA declared in 2006 and broke within a year.

The group's latest move appears to be an offer to extend indefinitely a truce it first announced in September, which came in the face of ebbing public support for its decades-long campaign and the arrest of many of its key members.

As it did then, the group Monday issued a statement to Spanish news media and released a video featuring three hooded guerrillas sitting at a table, with the ETA banner in the background and a woman's voice reading the announcement in the Basque language.

An English version was also posted on the website of the Basque newspaper Gara, which supports an independent homeland stretching across northern Spain and southern France. Though the statement reiterated ETA's long-held belief in the Basques' right to self-determination, it said that the "solution will come through the democratic process with dialogue and negotiation as its tools," rather than armed confrontation.

The cease-fire "will be verifiable by the international community," the group said, without specifying how. It called on Spain and France, which have joined forces to capture ETA members, to end their "repressive measures" and their "position of denial" toward the region.

The possibility of a permanent truce had been rumored for weeks. But Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said ETA's announcement wasn't enough and that the group must take "more forceful and definitive steps."

"Those who see some element of hope in ETA's announcement need to know that the road ahead is still long, because the only thing that matters is the definitive end of the ETA terrorist group," Zapatero told the Antenna 3 television channel.

The European Union and the United States classify ETA as a terrorist organization. Its name is an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom.

More than 800 people have died in the group's push for Basque independence, the last violent separatist movement left in the European Union. Its most recent fatal attack, a car bombing on the island of Majorca in July 2009, killed two police officers.

But the group is under pressure from Basque politicians who want a peaceful resolution of regional grievances and from security forces, which captured ETA's suspected leader in France in February. Other senior members have also been arrested.

henry.chu@latimes.com

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