Hopes growing for ETA peace deal despite cautious words

18th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

18 January 2005, MADRID-A top Spanish government official said the demise of armed Basque group ETA may be near, raising hopes that peace could finally take hold after decades of separatist violence.

18 January 2005

MADRID-A top Spanish government official said the demise of armed Basque group ETA may be near, raising hopes that peace could finally take hold after decades of separatist violence.

"It is possible we will rapidly see the end of ETA. They must give us very clear proof, such as the abandonment of arms and terrorism," the official said a day after ETA said it backed talks between its political wing Batasuna and the government.

"ETA has made truces before. A truce would be nothing new, not sufficient,"
the official, who requested anonymity, told reporters from foreign media
organisations in Madrid.

"They have to go further," said the source, who said the time for talking was at hand rather than resorting to violence which would add to "many years of suffering."

ETA´s  statement revived hopes of a long-awaited end to violence after the group's four-decade armed struggle which has cost more than 800 lives.

Ministers had said earlier on Monday the government was waiting for ETA to show it intends to abandon violence 'once and for all,' the group's Sunday statement having failed to make such a promise or mentioned a possible ceasefire.

That prompted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to insist that laying down arms was a prerequisite after several previous ceasefires foundered.

Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso also said that the government "will make proportionate responses to events that occur.

"What ETA has to do is abandon violence once and for all," Alonso said.

Basque parliament chairman Juan Maria Atutxa was cautiously optimistic.

"I sincerely think we are nearing the moment when violence will pass into
history," said Atutxa.

But others remained cautious, amid claims that ETA is indulging in opportunism ahead of regional elections planned for later this year, having also called a ceasefire in 1998, months before a regional poll.

In Sunday's statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara, ETA declared itself "wholly determined" to be involved in the process outlined by Batasuna spokesman Analdo Otegi on November 14 calling for "political dialogue" and "an end to weapons in Basque politics."

Several ministers have voiced scepticism about ETA's intentions, the group having returned to violence after the 1998 ceasefire, though a slew of recent arrests have seriously weakened the group.

Some papers and the main conservative opposition Popular Party dubbed Sunday's announcement an "opportunist electoral strategy."

However, the El Pais daily, generally close to the government, reported that "government members believe there is a real chance to put an end to terrorism."

In showing willingness to foster dialogue, although not budging on the issue of violence, Zapatero has moved forward from the entrenched position of his right-wing predecessor Jose Maria Aznar.

Aznar, victim a decade ago of an ETA assassination attempt, refused even to meet Basque regional government leader Juan Jose Ibarretxe, author of a controversial plan to win "free association" status from Madrid upgrading existing autonomy.

ETA, which seeks an independent Basque homeland straddling the Pyrenees between France and Spain, insists any solution must involve "the recognition of the right to self-determination."

Ibarretxe last week held talks in Madrid with Zapatero ahead of a regional referendum which the Basque government wants to hold on the issue.

The Madrid parliament is set, probably in March, to reject the plan outright as a first step towards secession.

Even if the national parliament throws out the Ibarretxe proposal the Basque government wants to press ahead with its referendum.

Under the 1978 Spanish constitution, all regions are subject to the overarching authority of the Madrid national government, while a charter passed in 1979 laid down the widespread autonomy which the regions already enjoy.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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