ETA announces end to more than 40 years' violence

20th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Armed Basque separatist group ETA declared Thursday the "definitive" end to more than four decades of bombing and shooting for a homeland independent of Spain.

Three ETA militants dressed in black shirts with white hoods over the heads and black berets made the declaration in a video on the Basque newspaper Gara's website.

Sitting at a table with the band's emblem of the struggle -- an axe with a snake curled around it -- the masked activist in the centre of the trio delivered the potentially historic announcement.

"ETA has decided the definitive cease of its armed activity," the band said in a written statement accompanying the video, translated by the paper and published in Basque, Spanish, French and English.

"ETA calls upon the Spanish and French goverments to open a process of a direct dialogue with the aim of addressing the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and, thus, to overcome the armed confrontation," it said.

"Through this historical declaration, ETA shows its clear, solid and definitive commitment."

The declaration could herald the end of Western Europe's last major violent secessionist group, blamed for 829 deaths, although it contains some elements the Spanish government will not welcome.

Madrid has refused to enter into talks with the band, insisting that it should dissolve itself unilaterally without any recompense for what it considers a criminal campaign.

ETA, classed as a terrorist group by the European Union and United States, bemoaned the loss of its comrades in the decades of violence but made no clear apology to its own victims.

"This has not been an easy way. The cruelty of the fight has taken away the lives of many comrades. Many others are still suffering in prison and in exile," it said.

"For them, our deepest recognition and tribute."

The trigger for the announcment was a "peace conference" held in San Sebastian, northern Spain, on Monday, which ETA welcomed as an initiative of "enormous significance."

Neither the Spanish government nor the outlawed ETA were at the international conference in San Sebastian, which included top peace negotiators including former Irish premier Bertie Ahern.

Key recommendations from the talks were:

-- ETA should make a public declaration of the "definitive cessation of all armed action";

-- If ETA does so, Spain and France should welcome it and agree to talks dealing exclusively with the consequences of the conflict;

-- Steps must be taken towards reconciliation including recognising and compensating victims.

Other conference members included former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, former Irish premier Bertie Ahern, Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Bruntland.

Former US president Jimmy Carter, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and longtime US peace envoy George Mitchell later issued statements backing its recommendations.

ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in January this year, but the Spanish government demanded the group make it definitive by surrendering its arms and disbanding.

Severely weakened by the Spanish and French security forces, which detained successive waves of its leadership, the armed group has launched no attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.

ETA was born during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

It had been edging towards the final page for some time, hastened by Basque secessionists who urged that the cause be defended with ballots, not bombs and bullets.

With the violent struggle waning, the fight seemed to be making greater progress through peaceful politics.

A new alliance of Basque separatist parties -- Bildu -- caused a major upset by beating Spain's ruling Socialist Party in municipal elections in May this year.

Bildu was allowed to field candidates only after a court battle to prove it was not a mouthpiece for ETA whose political wing, Batasuna, had been ruled illegal in 2003.

Spain's government will not forget that ETA declared a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 before entering peace talks.

But, nine months later, ETA militants set off a bomb in the Madrid-Barajas airport carpark, killing two men and setting in stone a Spanish policy of refusing further negotiations.

© 2011 AFP

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