Spain's ETA reaffirms commitment to end conflict
Spain's Basque separatist movement ETA insisted Satuday it had a "clear commitment" to end armed conflict but denied that its recent ceasefire announcement was a sign of weakness.
ETA "has provided the opportunity to give a definitive democratic solution to political conflict, showing a clear commitment to overcome the armed conflict," it said in a statement published in the Basque separatist newspaper Gara.
Last January 10, ETA announced a permanent, verifiable ceasefire after more than 40 years of bloodshed, but Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero rejected the offer, demanding that the separatist group go further and disband entirely.
The latest statement comes after a series of setbacks for ETA in recent days, including the arrest of several suspects, two of whom were held following a shootout with police in France, and the seizure of the largest ever cache of explosives in Spain.
The group denied that the truce was a sign of weakness on its part.
"Much has been said here and there, on the essence of this decision," it said.
"Some have linked it to weakness, with the aim of promoting the dream of a police victory. Some others say it was forced by the decisions taken by the (Basque) nationalist left, trying to say that ETA did it reluctantly.
"There are also those who, shamelessly, talk about the failure of a historic journey... And it is just as clear that if not for the enormous effort of the nationalist left ... the Basque nation may well have died out long ago.
"And there are some who, perversely, link it to the nationalist left's desire to be in the elections."
The radical nationalist Basque Left is an informal grouping of militants from the ETA's banned political wing Batasuna that has called for an end to separatist violence.
It has condemned a shootout in France last weekend in which two suspected ETA members opened fire on a policeman before being arrested.
ETA's latest statement made no reference to the shooting.
The Socialist head of the Basque government, Patxi Lopez, said there was no point in "trying to interpret" the statement by ETA, whose "only fate is to disappear," in an interview with the Cadena Ser radio station.
ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in its four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings to force the creation of an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.
The group had already announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid.
But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid's airport, killing two men. It then formally called off that truce in June 2007, since when the Spanish government has taken a hard line against it.
Spain's top court last month rejected an application by a new Basque pro-independence group, Sortu, formed by Batasuna militants, to form a political party so that it can stand in local elections in May.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Friday that police were seeking a fourth man as part of an operation against ETA that has led to the country's biggest ever seizure of explosives.
Police detained two brothers on Tuesday on suspicion of belonging to an ETA commando unit that has been active for years. Two days later they detained another man.
Police also seized a total of 1.6 tonnes of explosives from five locations including the home of the two brothers.
Rubalcaba said it was "the most significant seizure ever carried out in Spain in terms of the amount of explosives."
© 2011 AFP