ETA declares ceasefire but Spain says insufficient
Armed Basque separatists ETA announced Monday a permanent, verifiable ceasefire after more than 40 years of bloodshed but Spain's government said it was insufficient.
It was the first unilateral declaration of a permanent ceasefire in ETA's campaign of bombings and shootings for a homeland independent of Spain, which has claimed the lives of 829 people.
"ETA has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community," it said in text and video declarations.
"This is ETA's firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards and end to the armed confrontation."
A video showed three ETA members in white hoods and black berets, sitting in front of a table and reading the statement aloud in the Basque and Spanish languages.
Behind them on the wall hung the ETA symbol of a snake wrapped around an axe, which represents armed struggle.
Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who is also interior minister, said all governments and all parties in Spain's democracy had demanded an irreversible, definitive end to ETA violence.
"It is evident that today, once again, it has not done what democratic parties hoped for," he said.
Rubalcaba said ETA clearly wanted to claim a price for its ceasefire by acting as the guarantor of a supposed negotiation. And the government had repeatedly rejected the idea of an international, rather than Spanish, verification, he said.
But the interior minister, who has flatly rejected previous ETA ceasefire offers, was more positive than he had been in the past.
"If you ask me if I am calmer today, honestly I would say 'yes'," he said. "Is this bad news? No it is not."
ETA announced what it described as a permanent ceasefire in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid.
But in December 2006, ETA fighters set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men. Six months later it formally called off the ceasefire.
"It is time to act with historic responsibility. ETA calls upon those governing Spain and France to end all repressive measures and to leave aside for once and for all their position of denial towards the Basque Country," the latest ETA statement said.
ETA, which made no mention of disarming or disbanding, called for a democratic process to respond to the "key elements" of self-determination and territory.
All Basque parties must agree on how to recognise the Basque Country "ensuring that all political projects, including independence, are possible," the group said.
ETA released a series of declarations in September last year proposing an end to violence and calling for international mediation. But the Spanish government dismissed them, insisting on a definitive, verifiable ceasefire without conditions.
Spanish authorities believe ETA has been severely weakened after its security forces in cooperation with other countries, particularly France, repeatedly decapitated the group in raids on the leadership. There has been no attack on Spanish soil in 16 months.
But ETA has also come under severe pressure from within.
The group's political wing, Batasuna, was ruled illegal in 2003 because of its links with ETA.
It has called on ETA to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire in an effort to get the ban on its activities lifted so it can take part in municipal elections in May this year.
Rubalcaba said the latest ETA statement did not go far enough.
"The outlawed Batasuna has two options and only two if it wants to return to political life: either ETA abandons violence and does so irreversibly and definitively -- and it is evident that we are not there today -- or Batasuna demonstrably rejects its relationship with ETA, which also has not happened today," he said.
ETA was formed on July 31, 1959 during the dictatorship of general Francisco Franco by a group of Basque nationalist students.
On June 7, 1968, ETA shot and killed the police chief of the Basque coastal city of San Sebastian in the first deadly attack for which it claimed responsibility.
ETA assassinated Franco's prime minister and presumed successor admiral Luis Carrero Blanco on December 20, 1973. He was killed instantly when his car drove over explosives planted by ETA in Madrid, sending the vehicle high into the air.
© 2011 AFP