Basque separatists ETA declare ceasefire

MADRID (AFP) – Basque separatist fighters ETA declared a ceasefire in their flagging, decades-long campaign of bombing and shooting for a homeland independent of Spain.

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

(AFP) A screen grab taken from the website of pro-independence Basque newspaper Gara shows an image of ETA members declaring a ceasefire in the northern Spanish town of Guernica.

The separatists did not say if the ceasefire was permanent and their declaration was greeted with broad scepticism by Spanish political parties, which demand ETA give up its weapons for good and disband.

Listed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, ETA has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009, and police have arrested much of its top leadership.

ETA made the announcement in a video sent to the BBC and pro-independence Basque daily Gara, showing three people in berets and yellow hoods sitting at a table flanked by Basque flags and with an ETA symbol on the wall behind.

"ETA reaffirms its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict," said a woman sitting in the centre.

"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."

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government, which took a political pounding when ETA broke its last ceasefire in 2006 and bombed Madrid's main airport, did not react immediately.

The Interior Ministry was still examining the declaration, a spokesman said.

Government officials were quoted in the El Pais newspaper as saying the declaration was a move in the right direction but ETA must still definitively abandon the armed struggle.

In the Basque region, senior members of both the governing Socialist Party and the right-wing opposition Popular Party demanded that ETA bow to the demands of the Spanish people by disarming for good and disbanding.

A victims' group also denounced the ETA statement.

"It has no credibility because ETA has already had several truces and continues to kill," Angeles Pedraza, head of the Association of Victims of Terrorism, told Cadena Ser radio.

"The only thing that matters to us as victims is their total defeat, the surrender of arms and disbandment of the group," she added.

ETA, which was founded July 31, 1959, had been under pressure from its political allies to declare a truce.

Its banned political wing Batasuna plus its new ally, the Eusko Alkartasuna party, called on ETA in the past days to agree to a permanent ceasefire under international verification.

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.

A spokesman for Batasuna said the ETA ceasefire announcement was a contribution to peace that made the opening of a new political phase "irreversible."

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

After ETA formally called off the peace process in June 2007, the Spanish government stepped up its fight against the group. Since the start of this year Spanish police working with other forces including in France have arrested 68 suspected ETA members.

ETA killed two police officers in a bombing in Majorca on July 30, 2009, its last deadly attack in Spain. On August 10 it set off three small bombs in Palma de Majorca but without causing injuries, the last attack in Spain.

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