ETA unlikely to surrender arms for Christmas: analysts

14th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

An outlawed band of bombers and shooters fighting for secession, Spain's ETA is weakened but almost sure to dash hopes of surrender in time for Christmas, analysts say.

After killing 829 people in more than 40 years of violent struggle for an independent Basque homeland, ETA issued a string of messages in September 2010 pushing for a resolution.

Spain's government, though, insists on nothing less than a unilateral, permanent disarmament.

After a previous negotiation failed and ended with a Madrid airport car park bombing that killed two people in December 2006, the government refuses to contemplate talks under the menace of violence.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who has overseen a police campaign that has netted many of ETA's most senior leaders, has been cautious about peace prospects.

"It is the beginning of the end, but that does not mean there are no risks and we must maintain our guard," he said.

But some hope ETA will give up the armed struggle soon.

The head of the Socialist Party group in the Basque parliament, Jesus Eguiguren, took part in the aborted peace negotiations of 2006. In past weeks he has evoked the possibility of an "end to terrorism" by Christmas, prompting some scepticism even within his own camp.

ETA's political wing Batasuna -- outlawed because of its ties to ETA -- and its partner, the legal, non-violent Eusko Alkartasuna, also hope for a statement from ETA before long.

"I hope it will be before Christmas but I am not sure either," the party's secretary general, Pello Urizar, said in an interview.

For the first time, Urizar said, Batasuna had formally called on ETA to declare an "unlimited, unilateral and verifiable ceasefire without any political compensation."

"You have to be cautious. You wait, you wait, but in the end it is never when you expect it," said Cambio 16 journal director and Basque political analyst Gorka Landaburu.

Florencio Dominguez, director of the news agency Vasco Press and a leading expert on ETA, said the group was now observing a "technical halt" to operations.

"An ETA statement is possible but there will be nothing spectacular announced. I do not think that ETA plans to bring out a statement to commit to the abandoning of its arms," Dominguez said.

ETA had announced an end to "offensive armed actions" in September without committing to a permanent end to violence. In any case its previous armed attack had been long before, in August 2009. The statement was flatly rejected by Madrid.

"In September ETA stayed true to its own scheme in which truces are not unilateral but the fruit of a negotiation with the Spanish government with the promise of a future political negotiation," Dominguez said.

"ETA has not budged from that logic and is not going to make a statement to announce a unilateral halt. Pressure from Batasuna has not been enough to change ETA's attitude."

Batasuna, barred from political activity since 2003, has distanced itself from violence after some internal debate, but without delivering an outright condemnation of violent acts by ETA.

One Batasuna activist said his companions had moved on and "the mentality is no longer what it was 50 years ago" when a new-born ETA was fighting against General Francisco Franco.

"The armed struggle which had been useful up to now is today an obstacle" to sitting down at the table to negotiate Basque independence," said the 46-year-old librarian and former Batasuna candidate for municipal elections.

"We had an internal debate... we are going to respect their laws and see what comes of it," he said, referring to the laws that bar his party from taking part in democratic politics.

Batasuna announced November 27 the launch of a new party that "will reject violence" in the hope of being allowed to run in local elections in May 2011. The Spanish government has reacted with some scepticism.

© 2010 AFP

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