The armed Basque separatist group ETA announced a ceasefire on Sunday, raising hopes of an end to four decades of violence but offering little else to a skeptical Spanish government.
The announcement was made in a video in which three masked ETA militants sat behind a table with the group’s axe and snake symbol behind them.
“ETA announces that it decided several months ago not to carry out armed attacks,” said one of the ETA leaders, a woman.
The masked militants said that ETA wished “to reach a scenario for a democratic process.”
Crucially, however, they failed to indicate whether the ceasefire was temporary or permanent. Their communique, in the Basque language of Euskara, also made no mention of giving up arms or of an international verification process, which experts have said would be key to any future peace process.
Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba yesterday dismissed the announcement and said police will be as tough as ever against the militants.
Rubalcaba said ETA’s statement fell short of what Basque society and other Spaniards demand from the militant group, which is that it renounce violence for good.
He told Spanish National Television that he was convinced ETA would continue with other illegal activities such as trying to amass weapons.
Rubalcaba says the militant group declared the truce because it is so weak it cannot stage attacks.
The interior minister in the Socialist-led Basque regional government, Rodolfo Ares, also called the ceasefire announcement “absolutely insufficient.”
“It does not take into account what the vast majority of Basque society demands and requires from ETA, which is that it definitively abandon terrorism,” he said.
Spain’s main opposition group, the rightwing People’s party (PP), was more disdainful.
“The only thing we would consider relevant would be if ETA gave up its arms and those close to it denounced violence,” party spokesman Esteban Gonzalez-Pons said.
The announcement came after six months in which ETA has failed to kill anyone. The group’s last victim was a French police officer who discovered members stealing cars from a dealership outside Paris in March. The last fatal attack in Spain was in July last year, when two police officers were killed in Mallorca.
The group has killed 829 people in a 50-year campaign for an independent state made up of four Spanish provinces and part of southwest France.
It is the fourth time that ETA has unilaterally declared a ceasefire. The last one, which ETA called “permanent,” was announced in March 2006 and saw the government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero enter into talks.
Those talks were brought to a bloody end by a bomb that killed two Ecuadorian immigrants at Madrid’s Barajas airport nine months later, even though Zapatero had declared the previous day that he was optimistic about the process.
The blast was seen as proof that an internal battle between hawks and doves in ETA had been won by the former. Police have since arrested many of ETA’s senior leaders, and it is not clear who now runs the group.
Spanish government sources have been skeptical about moves by former leaders of Batasuna, a party banned for being an ETA front, to reopen a peace process in recent months. Some Batasuna leaders now believe the low-level terrorism practized by a much-weakened ETA is ineffectual and a block to independence. They have been putting pressure on ETA to declare a ceasefire since February.
In a document shown to the Diario Vasco newspaper over the weekend, senior Batasuna members mapped out a path to peace that included “a permanent ceasefire with international verification.”
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