ETA declares ceasefire in struggle with Spain

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Basque separatist group ETA declared a ceasefire Sunday in its bloody 42-year campaign for a homeland independent of Spain, vowing to give up guns and bombs for a democratic solution.

ETA "will not carry out armed offensive actions," said a masked woman flanked by two other masked members in a video announcement sent to the BBC and pro-independence Basque daily Gara.

The trio sat at a table, flanked by Basque flags and the ETA symbol on the wall behind them.

"ETA confirms its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict," said the woman.

"In its commitment to a democratic process to decide freely and democratically our future, through dialogue and negotiations, ETA is prepared today as yesterday to agree to the minimum democratic conditions necessary to put in motion a democratic process, if the Spanish government is willing."

Listed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, ETA has been held responsible for killing 829 people in attacks on mainly Spanish targets.

But ETA has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009, and the authorities in Spain and across the border in France have arrested many of its most senior leaders.

ETA was urged Friday to declare a truce by its political wing Batasuna plus its ally, the Eusko Alkartasuna party.

Spanish media reported that Batasuna and Eusko Alkartasuna had called on ETA to agree to a "permanent ceasefire under international verification" in a document outlining a "road map" for a peace process.

Eusko Alkartasuna's secretary general, Pello Urizar, confirmed Saturday that it had made the call for a "permanent ETA ceasefire subject to international verification."

ETA last announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 but months later reversed course and in December 2006 set off a bomb at a car park at Madrid's international airport, killing two men.

After formally calling off the peace process in June 2007, the Spanish government stepped up its campaign against ETA.

Working closely with the French authorities, the arrests over the past three years of the movement's leaders are believed to have severely dented its operations.

Spanish media say Batasuna, which has been banned from running for office since 2003 because of its ties to ETA, hoped to return to the political game ahead of local elections in 2011.

© 2010 AFP

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