In a historic step for Spain, the armed Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatsuna (ETA) is this week expected to announce a definitive end to more than four decades of violence, according to sources close to the negotiations.
With the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan flying into the Basque country today for talks and a recent call from several hundred ETA prisoners for an end to violence, sources in the Basque country and others involved in the process say the group will make a significant announcement shortly.
Senior members of Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government have been saying for several weeks that they expect the group to make such a move. ETA is already observing what it terms a “permanent” ceasefire, called in September last year, though it has broken previous unilateral truces that it had deemed permanent.
While it was unclear exactly what words ETA would use in its forthcoming statement, it looks set to be an irreversible step toward the end of a group that has killed more than 800 people in bomb and pistol attacks across Spain over the past 43 years.
A public appeal yesterday from Annan and fellow mediators, including Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, for ETA to embrace peace will provide the group with an excuse for declaring its readiness to abandon arms, according to sources. Radical Basque separatist political leaders would then imitate moves by Adams during the Ulster peace process when, in 2005, he appealed directly for the IRA to lay down its weapons.
ETA was expected to react quickly, though it would stop short of announcing its dissolution. It may follow the IRA’s lead by calling on its members to use exclusively peaceful means without disbanding. However, those with experience of ETA insist that the group remains unpredictable.
The dramatic new moves would come just a month before a Nov. 20 general election that looks likely to change Spain’s government, with the conservative People’s party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy predicted to win a landslide victory.
Although the PP has traditionally refused to consider any sort of dialogue with ETA, it is known to have been in contact with the group during a previous ceasefire in 1998. The hawkish PP then-Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, whom ETA had tried to kill with a car bomb in 1995, even moved some of the group’s prisoners to jails closer to home in a good-will gesture.
Socialist Basque Regional President Patxi Lopez last month responded to a call from ETA prisoners for the group to embrace peace by proposing that those in jails around Spain be moved to Basque prisons.
Rajoy has been careful not to comment on recent signs that ETA is looking for a way out of the dead-end of terrorism. Indeed, he has hardly talked about ETA — which was an obsession for his party under Aznar — over the past four years in opposition.
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