Basque separatist group Eta ‘declares ceasefire’

Armed Basque separatist group Eta says
it will not “carry out armed actions” in its campaign for
independence.

In a video obtained exclusively by the
BBC, the group said it took the decision several months ago “to put in
motion a democratic process”.

The Basque interior minister called the
statement “insufficient”. Madrid has previously insisted that Eta
renounce violence and disarm before any talks.

Eta’s violent campaign has led to more
than 820 deaths over the past 40 years.

It has called two ceasefires in the
past, but abandoned them both.

This latest announcement comes after the
arrests of numerous Eta leaders and during an unprecedented period of debate
within the Basque nationalist community over the future direction of policy,
says the BBC’s Clive Myrie in San Sebastian.

Eta has been coming under increasing
pressure to lay down its weapons, our correspondent adds.

It is unclear whether Eta is declaring a
permanent or temporary ceasefire.

In the video obtained by the BBC, three
hooded Eta fighters are shown sitting behind a desk with the Eta flag pinned up
behind them.

The figure in the middle reads out a
prepared statement defending Eta’s campaign of violence, but towards the end
she says the group now wants to achieve its aims by peaceful, democratic means.

“Eta confirms its commitment to
finding a democratic solution to the conflict,” the statement says.

“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,” it adds.

“We call on all Basque citizens to
continue in the struggle, each in their own field, with whatever degree of
commitment they have, so that we can all cast down the wall of denial and make
irreversible moves forward on the road to freedom.”

Nationalist politicians in the Basque
country welcomed the announcement and called on the Spanish government and the
international community to respond positively.

The pro-Eta party Batasuna, which has
been banned since 2003 on the grounds that it is Eta’s political wing, is one
of two Basque nationalist parties to have called on Eta to declare “an
internationally verifiable ceasefire” days earlier.

But Rodolfo Ares, the interior minister
for the Basque region, called Eta’s statement inadequate, saying the only
declaration that Spanish authorities were hoping for was one in which the group
definitively renounced “terrorist activity”.

The Spanish government, which has been
studying Eta’s statement but is yet to make an official response, has said in
the past that it will only negotiate with Eta if it renounces violence and
disarms.

The deputy editor of the Basque language
newspaper, Gara, which follows the activities of Eta closely, said the Basque
people had been hoping for this declaration.

“I think that it’s a big step and a
positive step,” Njaki Soto told the BBC. “I think that’s it’s
something that the majority of the Basque society was waiting [for] or
expecting and in that sense I think that it’s something that no-one can say
that it’s negative.”

“It will be a long way but it’s
something that can bring the peace and the justice to the Basque country,”
he said.

Barbara Duhrkop, a former Socialist MEP
whose husband Enrique Casas was murdered by Eta in 1984, said the statement was
a positive step but did not go far enough.

“It’s still insufficient because
they talk about ceasefire, democratic process, but there’s nothing about laying
down arms and permanence. So I would be very careful, very cautious to evaluate
how much worth there is in this announcement,” she said.

Founded in 1959, Eta has since then
waged a bloody campaign for independence for the seven regions in northern
Spain and south-west France that Basque separatists claim as their own.

Controversial peace talks in 2006 collapsed after an Eta bomb killed two
people at Madrid airport.

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