Europe, Headlines

SPAIN: ETA Ceasefire Met with Wide Scepticism

Tito Drago

MADRID, Jan 10 2011 (IPS) - Spain’s political parties demanded that ETA surrender its weapons and abandon violence for good, in response to a statement issued by the group Monday in which it declared a permanent ceasefire, verifiable by the international community, and called for negotiation.

In its communiqué published online by the Basque-language newspaper Gara, ETA — Euskadi ta Askatasuna or Basque Fatherland and Liberty, in the Basque language — said that to put an end to what it described as the “centuries-old political conflict” in that northern Spanish region, a democratic process is needed, “with dialogue and negotiation as its tools and with its compass pointed towards the will of the Basque people.”

Fernando de Salas, honorary rector of the Society for International Studies, told IPS that the communiqué is interesting, but does not go far enough, because “the first thing ETA has to do is turn over its weapons and accept international verification that it has given up violence forever.

“The Basque Country, like the rest of Spain, is governed by democratic rules that allow political ideas to be set forth and defended at the ballot box, without excluding anyone,” which means any use of violence should be rejected outright, he added.

The Basque region, one of the 17 autonomous communities into which Spain is divided, was one of the first to have an autonomous government, and has its own police force and separate tax system, which pays part of what it collects to the central government.

Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba of the governing socialist party, seen as the possible successor to Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said in a news briefing that ETA’s statement does not mark “the end, nor is it what society was expecting.”

He said Spanish society is demanding “an irreversible, definitive end” to ETA’s separatist violence.

“The government has rejected international verification over and over again. In a democratic country under the rule of law it’s for the state security forces to verify” the ceasefire, Rubalcaba said.

The president of the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), Ángeles Pedraza, called the communiqué an “electoral ploy” designed to allow ETA’s political wing, the banned Herri Batasuna party, to participate in the May municipal elections, under the guise of an offer of peace.

But that participation “should in no way be allowed, because it would make a mockery of citizens who want to live in peace, democracy and freedom,” she said.

The leader of the United Left (IU) coalition, Cayo Lara, expressed himself in similar terms, demanding that ETA “lay its weapons on the table,” and stating that “the only possible communiqué that it can make is one that talks about an irreversible ceasefire.”

The consensus in Spain is that ETA is at its lowest point ever. Since it was founded over half a century ago, it has killed more than 900 people.

In its last bombing attack in Spain, ETA killed two members of the Civil Guard with a car bomb on Jul. 30, 2009 in the Balearic Islands. On Mar. 17, 2010, a French policeman was shot and killed near Paris in a shootout with members of the separatist group after a police patrol checked the identities of a group of people who had stolen cars from a garage.

In the last few years, after an attempt at peace talks failed in 2006 when ETA broke a truce after killing two people with a car bomb at the airport in Madrid, the group not only became less and less active, but its top leaders began to be captured. And last year alone, more than 100 members of the group were arrested, along with several weapons caches.

The evidence of its decline, apart from the arrests of its leaders, is that it has not managed to stage new attacks, although the Interior Ministry had not ruled out the possibility that it could make an attempt at any moment.

ETA wants negotiations to include a discussion of the release of its imprisoned members, to which the associations of victims’ families are opposed, as well as the country’s political parties.

“I am the first to want the end of ETA, but when I hear talk about prison releases, it’s as if I had been stabbed,” Antonio Salvá, the father of a young member of the Civil Guard who was killed by the terrorist group, said in an interview published by the Madrid newspaper El Mundo.

The statement published by Gara is dated Jan. 8, the day that tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the Basque region to protest the government’s policy of holding people convicted of separatist violence in prisons far from their homes, and to demand an amnesty for the prisoners.

Javier Arenas, a leader of the centre-right Popular Party, said the real goal of the demonstrations was to allow ETA’s political arm to take part in the municipal elections, which he said must not happen.

In late 2009, Herri Batasuna leaders Rufi Etxeberria and Rafael Diez Usabiaga presented a document stating that “the democratic process must develop amidst the total absence of violence, and without interference.”

In assemblies held shortly afterwards among ETA supporters, 80 percent approved the abandonment of violence.

That stance is supported by South African human rights lawyer Brian Currin, who has led attempts to convince ETA to declare a “permanent, unilateral and verifiable ceasefire,” with the support of international figures.

Currin, who has extensive experience in conflict mediation in his country, Northern Ireland and the Basque region, met on Mar. 29 to that end with former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and with Nobel Peace laureates F. W. de Klerk, the former South African president; Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; and John Hume from Northern Ireland.

After ETA issued its statement Monday, Currin told the Spanish news agency Europa Press that he was pleased that the group had responded “positively” to the call for a verifiable ceasefire expressed by the group of international personalities.

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