Spain rejects latest ETA offer of permanent ceasefire
Spanish officials rejected Sunday the latest statement by the Basque separatist group ETA that it is ready to observe a permanent ceasefire in its battle for an independent homeland.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero made no mention of the ETA statement at a rally in Zaragoza but a government source quoted by the website of the daily El Mundo dismissed it as a "waste of time".
"The only thing we're waiting for is a final end to violence," the source added.
Basque regional president Patxi Lopez, who belongs to Zapatero's ruling socialists, said he saw "nothing new" in the latest ETA statement, made by two members of the group in an interview published Sunday in Basque daily Gara.
"The development we are all waiting for and which we have repeated time and again to ETA is the announcement of its disappearance," he told Spanish media on his arrival in China where he was to visit the World Expo in Shanghai.
Asked if ETA would be willing to commit to a "permanent and verifiable ceasefire", the two members of the outfit told Gara: "ETA is willing to take that step and also to go further if the conditions for it are created."
They said a halt in offensive actions announced earlier by the group was long term, and that ETA would like to see a dialogue on ending the conflict with discussions involving Basque parties and civic groups.
The two, who appeared in pictures published in the newspaper dressed in black and wearing masks, also reiterated that international mediation would be welcome.
"We feel that an international contribution is necessary during the entire process, to give it an uninterrupted impulse, protect it, and to an extent to reinforce the process and guarantee its results," they added.
ETA on Saturday came under pressure from its political wing, Batasuna, to show its willingness to permanently renounce violence.
Batasuna joined with several other pro-independence parties to sign an agreement on peace initiatives in the Basque region, and they urged ETA to halt its campaign of violence.
ETA, blamed for 829 deaths in a campaign of bombings and shootings to secure an independent Basque homeland, has released two declarations in the past month proposing an end to violence and calling for international mediation.
The Spanish government dismissed both declarations as they fell short of its demand for the group to lay down arms permanently.
In a September 5 video declaration, ETA said it had decided several months ago to halt armed offensive actions. But the ceasefire was rejected outright by Madrid for failing to promise a permanent end to the violence.
Then on September 19 ETA called for international mediation to resolve the Basque question, referring to a group of international mediators who had urged the group to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire.
However the call failed to clearly spell out their willingness to lay down their arms forever, and Spanish officials again said it was insufficient.
Zapatero's government refuses to negotiate with ETA unless it abandons the armed struggle, recalling that ETA broke a previous promise to end the bloodshed.
ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 and started tentative peace talks with Madrid.
But in December 2006 it set off a bomb in a car park at Madrid's airport, killing two men, and in June 2007 it formally called off its ceasefire, citing a lack of concessions by the government in peace talks.
The Spanish authorities believe ETA has been severely weakened since then. Spanish security forces, working in cooperation with other countries, particularly France, have arrested many suspected members of the leadership.
Batasuna, ruled illegal in 2003 due to its links with ETA, wants the ban on its activities lifted so it can take part in municipal elections next year.
© 2010 AFP