Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has rejected a permanent ceasefire declaration from armed Basque separatists ETA, saying he wants nothing less than their dissolution.
Zapatero was responding to the first unilateral declaration of a permanent ceasefire in ETA's campaign of bombings and shootings for a homeland independent of Spain, which has claimed the lives of 829 people.
"The only thing we are waiting for from ETA is a statement on its definitive dissolution," he told Antena 3 television, ruling out dialogue and saying ETA's only choice was to disarm and respect the law.
|Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (pictured) has rejected a permanent ceasefire declaration from armed Basque separatists ETA, saying he wants nothing less than their dissolution|
Achieving an end to ETA's violence would be a costly and difficult process, Zapatero said.
"We are without any doubt on the horizon of seeing that end to violence but it will take time," he added.
"We must remain united, with strength and intelligence and defending the democratic state. That way we will achieve it. I have no doubt."
"ETA has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community," the group said in a video declaration.
"This is ETA's firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards an end to the armed confrontation."
The video showed three ETA members in white hoods and black berets, sitting in front of a table and reading the statement aloud in the Basque and Spanish languages.
They called on Spain and France to end "repressive measures" and abandon their attitude of "denial" towards the Basque Country; and they urged Basque people to agree on a future with independence as a possibility.
Jose Marco, vice-president of AVT, an association of victims of ETA attacks, dismissed the offer as "more of the same".
The Basque Country's interior minister Rodolfo Ares said the statement was a step in the right direction, but was "insufficient, because ETA has not decided to abandon terrorist activities".
ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the car park of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.
Analyst Gorka Landaburu Illarramendi, director of news weekly Cambio 16 and victim of an ETA parcel bomb in 2001 that blew off several of his fingers, acknowledged that the latest statement was "an important step".
But he added: "It is not the definitive step. And the hope of the great majority of the Basque, even Spanish, people is that this organisation dissolves itself and disappears from life."
ETA released a series of declarations in September last year proposing an end to violence and calling for international mediation.
But the government dismissed them, insisting on a definitive, verifiable and unconditional ceasefire.
Spanish authorities believe ETA has been severely weakened after Spanish security forces, helped by other countries, particularly France, captured its leaders in a series of raids. There has been no attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.
And ETA has also come under severe pressure from within.
The group's political wing, Batasuna, called on ETA to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire in an effort to get a ban imposed on its own participation in polls lifted so it can take part in municipal elections in May.
Batasuna was ruled illegal in 2003 because of its links with ETA. Zapatero made it clear to Batasuna that either ETA abandoned the armed struggle or Batasuna repudiated ETA if it wanted to take part in the election.
ETA was formed on July 31, 1959 during the dictatorship of general Francisco Franco by a group of Basque nationalist students.
On June 7, 1968, ETA shot and killed the police chief of the Basque coastal city of San Sebastian in the first deadly attack for which it claimed responsibility.