Analysts say weakened ETA was pushed into ceasefire

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Basque independence fighters ETA, limping after the arrests of scores of senior leaders, were pushed by their political wing into announcing a ceasefire Sunday, analysts said.

But the ceasefire seemed to be a minimal response to the demands so as to allow ETA's banned political wing Batasuna to fight in municipal elections next year, the analysts said.

And the wording of the declaration -- released in a video showing three hooded members of ETA -- indicates the group is not ready permanently to abandon the armed struggle for a homeland independent of Spain, they added.

ETA, blamed for the deaths of 829 people over more than 40 years, said in the video it had decided several months ago that it "will not carry out armed offensive actions."

It did not say whether the ceasefire was permanent.

The ETA declaration had been expected for several weeks, said Gorka Landaburu, specialist in Basque affairs and director of the weekly magazine Cambio 16.

In Sunday's declaration, however, "ETA does not speak of a definitive truce but of a halt in armed actions. As an organization, it continues," he said.

ETA's political wing Batasuna had commited itself to using only peaceful means when it signed a "strategic agreement" in June and allied itself with a tiny Basque nationalist party, Eusko Alkartasuna.

Both Batasuna and its new ally called on ETA in past days to declare a permanent ceasefire with international verification, seeking to satisfy Spanish authorities' demands that it give up violence.

But ETA's new declaration had not sparked the same kind of enthusiasm in the Basque country as the "permanent ceasefire" that was announced in 2006 for peace negotiations with Madrid, Landaburu said.

"There have been so many truces that failed," he added. ETA abandoned the ceasefire in 2006 and carried out a bombing of Madrid's main airport in December of that year, killing two people.

"If you want to be optimistic, you could say it is the beginning of the end, but it will be long," Landaburu said. "ETA is not going to draw the curtain from one day to the next and accept its defeat."

Batasuna, declared illegal since 2003 because of its ties with ETA, aims to return to politics in time to take part with its new ally in Basque municipal elections in 2011, analysts said.

With the latest statement, "ETA is seeking to respond to the pressures from Batasuna and has made official a situation it has been in since March, a technical halt (of attacks) to enable it to reorganize internally in response to the police operations," said Florencio Dominguez, expert and chief editor of Vasco Press.

ETA has not carried out a lethal attack on Spanish soil since July 30, 2009 when it killed two police officers in a bombing in Majorca. It set off three small bombs in Palma de Majorca in August 2009 without causing injury.

Since the start of this year alone, Spanish police working with other countries' forces have arrested 68 suspected ETA members. In May, the top leader Mikel Karrera Sarobe was picked up in France.

ETA's latest declaration "says that for now that it will not carry out an attack but it maintains its activity so as to be able to carry out attacks. This is not an abandonment of arms, far from it," said Dominguez.

Jose Luis Orella, professor at the Universidad CEU San Pablo in Madrid and author of several books on the group, said the ETA offer was an "inadequate start" in the eyes of the Spanish government.

The armed group has not gone any further than a vague announcement because it "never envisaged laying down its weapons," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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