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Carter, Mitchell back call for ETA to end violence

Former US president Jimmy Carter and longtime peace envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday backed an international call for armed Basque separatists ETA to end more than 40 years of violence.

In separate statements, the two US statesmen added their support to a conference in northern Spain on Monday by international negotiators, who called on ETA to end a violent campaign blamed for 829 deaths.

“This effort deserves the support of the international community,” Carter said in a statement from the Carter Center.

“I fully support the declaration issued by international leaders in San Sebastian,” Mitchell, a former US senator and special US envoy for peace missions in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, said in a separate statement.

“It is important that all possible steps are taken to bring about the end of the last armed confrontation in Europe.”

The Spanish government has reacted coolly to the conference, which did not include its representatives or any agents for the outlawed ETA.

Mitchell’s reference to an “armed confrontation” is likely to irk Madrid, which insists that ETA members are criminals defying the rule of law and being pursued by police, not combatants in a conflict.

The declaration read by former Irish premier Bertie Ahern after Monday’s conference used the same language and was condemned for it by a government minister and much of Spain’s press.

Spain also rejects any suggestion that the government should enter into talks with ETA, as suggested by the conference.

But some Spanish officials predicted the conference would provide a face-saving formula for ETA to renounce violence for good, perhaps as early as this week.

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 recognizing and compensating victims.

Conference members, who also included former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Bruntland, offered to form a committee to follow up on their recommendations.

ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in January this year after more than 40 years of bombing and shooting to carve out a homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

But the Spanish government demanded the group make it definitive by surrendering its arms and disbanding unilaterally.

ETA, born during the dictatorship of general Francisco Franco, has been edging towards the end for some time, hastened by Basque secessionists who have made huge strides in regional polls.

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 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 further negotiations.