Negotiators meet to push for end to Spain's ETA
International negotiators met here Monday to pave the way for a historic, definitive end to armed Basque separatist group ETA after more than four decades and 829 deaths.
Pressure is mounting for a heavily-weakened ETA to disarm and disband, having failed to achieve its goal of an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France in a campaign of bombing and shooting.
Basque Country regional president Patxi Lopez joined other policymakers in calling on ETA to seize on the results of the one-day conference here as a basis to shut down operations for good.
Visiting Ground Zero in New York on the eve of the meeting, Lopez said ETA was "already broken" and that democracy and democrats did not need any conference to defeat terrorism.
But "if ETA and its supporters need it to stage their final end, I want to tell them to take advantage of this opportunity, to truly take advantage to put a final end to it," he told Spanish journalists.
Speculation is mounting that ETA, listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union and held responsible for 829 deaths, will do so.
The timing is important, coming shortly before November 20 elections widely expected to turf the ruling Socialists from power and install the conservative Popular Party.
"The important thing is that probably we are putting an end to this," said Ramon Jauregui, minister responsible for relations between parliament and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's office.
The Spanish and regional Basque governments were not taking part in the conference, he told Onda Cero radio, in line with a policy of not negotiating with the band.
But Jauregui said he expected the conference would call for a definitive end to violence, and he believed it was "very probable" that ETA was seeking such a statement as cover to make an announcement along those lines.
"I don't know if they will do it or not. ETA is not a predictable organisation and so I cannot announce anything," he added, stressing that the government was offering "nothing in exchange"
Among the delegates to the conference are former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams, Irish ex-prime minister Bertie Ahern and former Norwegian prime minister and WHO chief Gro Harlem Bruntland.
"Today's gathering is a very, very significant step and hopefully we will see a step change in the situation arising from today's initiative," Adams told Ireland's RTE state radio Monday.
A key to developing an end to conflict is to find an alternative and develop dialogue, Adams said.
"It is my view that can happen in the Basque Country in the same way as it happened in our country," he added.
"Obviously the Spanish government has to embrace such an approach. It is a two-way street, the whole business of peace-making."
ETA, born during the dictatorship of general Francisco Franco, has 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.
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 took a significant step further by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in January this year.
In September, ETA announced that most of its 700 imprisoned members had also agreed to abandon violence, backing a proposal for a permanent, verifiable ceasefire.
More than five years ago, ETA and the Spanish government seemed to be making progress towards an agremeent.
ETA declared a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 for talks with the government.
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 future negotiations.
© 2011 AFP