Spain's government says ETA peace plan falls short

18th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain's government and media rejected Tuesday a new plan for Basque separatists ETA to abandon violence, saying it failed to demand the band's dissolution.

The proposal by a "peace conference" on Monday was a significant step, however, because it flatly demanded an end to more than 40 years of bombings and shootings, blamed for 829 deaths, they said.

Neither the Spanish government nor the outlawed ETA were at the international conference in San Sebastian but several officials predicted ETA would quickly accept its terms.

Key recommendations from the talks were:

-- ETA should make a public declaration of the "definitive cessation of all armed action";

-- If ETA does so, Spain and France should welcome it and agree to talks dealing exclusively with the consequences of the conflict;

-- Steps must be taken towards reconciliation including recognising and compensating victims.

Left wing pro-Basque independence politicians backed the meeting's recommendations.

They "express their support for all and each of the conclusions of the international conference," said one of the movement's leaders, Rufi Etxeberria, in a news conference with about 50 fellow members.

But the government made clear that it expected more.

"The content of the conference declaration is relatively disappointing," said Ramon Jauregui, coordinating minister in Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's office.

"If there is anything to emphasise it is that there is a clear call for ETA to definitively abandon arms," he told Cadena Ser radio.

Jauregui said the conference was probably part of a script that would lead to ETA's abandoning of violence, stressing however that this would be an achievement of the Spanish people, not the meeting.

Like much of the press, the Spanish minister rejected the conference's description of ETA's campaign of violence as an "armed confrontation" and a "conflict."

"Some people killed others with no reason," the minister said. "We suffered thousands of victims," he added. "Any attempt to change that would be like attempts to change the holocaust."

Conference members included former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, former Irish premier Bertie Ahern, Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Bruntland.

Shortly after their declaration, government spokesman Jose Blanco said: "The government reiterates that what the terrorist group ETA should do is definitively abandon violence, that is it."

Spain's leading centre-left daily, El Pais, described the conference as a significant step forward.

But the right-of-centre El Mundo mocked the gathering as "the San Sebastian festival" in its front-page headline, and said negotiators had "missed a chance to call on ETA simply and clearly to dissolve itself".

Florencio Dominguez, editor in chief of Basque news wire Vasco Press, said Ahern's description of ETA's actions as the "last armed confrontation in Europe," had upset many people.

"Here there is not one part of society firing at the other. This is a police problem. A group is acting against the rule of law and being pursued by the police. Yes, there is a political conflict, a nationalist problem too but not an armed conflict."

ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in January this year, but the Spanish government demanded the group make it definitive by surrendering its arms and disbanding.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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