ETA makes peace gestures ahead of Spain vote

5th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Armed Basque separatist group ETA has made a string of peace gestures in the run-up to Spain's November 20 elections but analysts say it is not yet ready to disband.

Weakened by a series of security blows and by a lack of popular support for more bombings and shootings, ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in January after more than four decades of violence.

Analysts said the group, classed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and United States, is looking for a way to end the armed struggle for ever while still saving face.

On September 23, imprisoned ETA members formally agreed to support the Guernica agreement, which a year earlier had called for ETA to renounce violence.

On October 1, illegal Basque radical group Ekin, considered by Madrid to be the policy organisation of ETA, announced that it was disbanding.

But ETA, held responsible for 829 deaths in its battle to carve out an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France, has not yet taken the two crucial steps demanded by Madrid: the unconditional surrender of arms and the disbanding of the organisation forever.

Nevertheless, the ruling Socialists have not shied away from talking about ETA's decline ahead of an election they are widely expected to lose to the opposition conservative Popular Party.

ETA has launched no attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.

"I think ETA is weaker than ever, that the steps it is taking towards the end of terrorism are definitive," said the official government spokesman, Jose Blanco.

Interior Minister Antonio Camacho has said that he believes the end is "closer than ever".

"We will see the end of ETA. The question for them is 'how to save face'," said Gorka Landaburu, director of news weekly Cambio 16 and himself the victim of an ETA parcel bomb in 2001.

For him, the gestures being made by ETA reflect a "victory of politics over the military" within the pro-independence Basque movement.

Separatist Basque politicians are pressuring ETA to let them "ride the wave of their success" in May municipal elections, in the hope of getting five or six deputies into the national parliament.

A new alliance of Basque separatist parties -- Bildu -- caused a major upset by beating Spain's Socialist Party in municipal elections in the region on May 22.

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.

The dissolution of ETA "will not be achieved from one day to the next," said Landaburu.

ETA would have to negotiate with the new government after the elections, a process that could take six months to a year, he said.

The armed group is calling notably for some 750 prisoners -- 600 in Spain and 150 in France -- to be transferred to prisons in the Basque Country.

ETA's announcements are "propaganda" aimed at supporting Bildu's political campaign, said Florencio Dominguez, author of several books on ETA.

This, he said, was also why separatists had created a new, broader left-wing Basque coalition, Amaiur, which combines Bildu and another pro-independence group, Aralar, "to work in favour of a resolution of the political conflict".

The new coalition could get a boost if ETA decided to surrender a hundred or so weapons as a sign of good faith, just as Northern Ireland's IRA had done, said a source close to the matter who declined to be identified.

Until ETA has disappeared "anything is possible," said the source. "We cannot exclude an attack by radicals who want to scupper the ceasefire before or after the elections," he warned.

© 2011 AFP

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