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ETA truce a small but positive step: analysts

A permanent ceasefire declaration by armed Basque separatists ETA is riddled with dubious language and fails to meet a key Spanish demand for a definitive surrender of arms, analysts said.

But, they said, it was still an important step towards ending ETA’s violent campaign for a homeland independent of Spain that has claimed 829 lives in more than 40 years of bloodshed.

Three ETA members in white hoods and black berets announced in a video sent to media Monday “a permanent and general ceasefire” to be verified by the international community.

They called on Spain and France to end “repressive measures” and abandon their of “denial” towards the Basque Country; and they urged Basque people to agree on a future with independence as a possibility.

ETA analyst Gorka Landaburu, director of news weekly Cambio 16 and victim of an ETA parcel bomb in 2001 that blew off several of his fingers, said he did not expect the government publicly to enter negotations on the basis of the statement.

“I think it is an important step, a new step. It is not the definitive step. And the hope of the great majority of the Basque, even Spanish, people is that this organization dissolves itself and disappears from life.”

While ETA’s declaration spoke of a “permanent and general ceasefire,” it did not mention a definitive end to violence, Landaburu said.

It was not clear, he said, whether ETA’s use of the word “general” referred also to the group’s use of extortion of businesses in the Basque country to raise funds.

Spain’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, said ETA fell short of demands for an irreversible, definitive end to violence.

He criticised the group for trying to claim a price for its ceasefire by seeking a position as guarantor of a supposed negotiation. And he rejected the idea of an international, rather than Spanish, verification.

The government had given its classic response, said Landaburu. “But it is obvious ETA is never going to surrender its arms, ETA is never going to dissolve itself, nor flagellate itself in the public square, and this is a process that has a long way to go.”

Florencio Dominguez, editor in chief of Vasco Press and author of several books on ETA, said the group was trying to create space for its banned political wing Batasuna to manoevre.

Batasuna has urged ETA to declare a unilateral, permanent and verifiable ceasefire in the hope that it can lift a ban on its own political actitivites in time for municipal elections in May.

But Rubalcaba said he did not believe ETA had gone far enough, telling Batasuna that it must break with ETA unless the group definitively and irreversibly ends the armed struggle.

Dominguez agreed.

“They put conditions on a possible definitive abandonment of arms when they say the solution will come through a process which they detail starting with territoriality and self determination,” the analyst said.

“They do not consider an abandonment of arms that is unilateral and without conditions.”

ETA had used the same language of a permanent ceasefire in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid, he said. But in December 2006, ETA set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.

Jose Luis Orella, ETA analyst and head of the history of thought at University of San Pablo-Ceu in Madrid, said people were really waiting for ETA to disband.

“There have been other treaties and no-one gives an assurance they won’t kill again. People are really tired of this kind of declaration and nobody trusts in it,” Orella said.

An editorial in Basque daily Gara, which is in favour of Basque independence and which released the latest ETA declaration, warned against underestimating its importance.

“Those who underestimate the step taken by ETA are trying to sabotage this moment and there is no other option but to denounce their lack of responsibility,” it said.

“On the other hand, those who respond positively will not only be responding to that which an important representation of the international community is asking of them but will also be contributing to a scenario of peace, justice and democracy.”