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Terrorist group ETA announces permanent ceasefire

The Basque separatist group ETA announced a permanent end to its terrorist activities Monday. But the Spanish government has dismissed the declaration as several ceasefires have been broken before.

Members of the Basque separatist group ETA

The government wants a permanent and verifiable ceasefire this time

Armed Basque separatist group ETA announced a permanent ceasefire on Monday after more than 40 years of deadly terror attacks in their fight for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

"ETA has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community," the group said in a statement distributed to media in Basque, Spanish and English.

"This is ETA's firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards an end to the armed confrontation with Spain," the statement continued.

Skeptical Spanish government

Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said ETA's ceasefire declaration failed to meet expectations, but was not bad news.

Members getting arrested by Spanish police

ETA has been weakened by police raids and its own political wing

"If you ask me if it is the end, I would say 'no.' If you ask me if this statement is what Spanish society was hoping for, I would say 'absolutely no'," he told reporters at a news conference.

Current and previous Spanish governments have repeatedly said that all they want to hear from ETA is that it is disarming and giving up, Rubalcaba added.

It is the first time that ETA has unilaterally declared a permanent ceasefire in its history. But ETA also called on Basque "political and social actors" to reach agreements ensuring that Basques could exercise a "right to decide" on "all political projects, including independence." An independent Basque region is a subject the Spanish government refuses to discuss.

The announcement comes three months after the group's declaration of bringing armed attacks to a halt. The Spanish government of socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatero repeatedly said it will not negotiate with ETA unless the group lays down its weapons and insisted on a definite, verifiable ceasefire.

Pressure from police and political wing

Spanish authorities believe ETA has been weakened by police raids on its leadership, but the group has also come under severe pressure from within, as its political wing Batasuna was ruled illegal in 2003 due to its links with ETA. It has urged ETA to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire in order to be able to take part in municipal elections this year.

ETA was founded in 1959 during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco and is said to have killed more than 850 people in its attacks.

"We can't be satisfied with this sort of statement, which does not mean that ETA is disbanding or showing a desire to disappear," Rogelio Alonso, political scientist at Rey Juan Carlos I University said. "It's simply an attempt to put pressure on the democratic players to negotiate their demands."

If peace talks were to take place, ETA would most likely demand amnesty for its members and for some 550 prisoners.

ETA has broken ceasefires several times in the past, most recently in 2006 when the group ended its truce by a bomb attack at Madrid's airport.

Author: Sarah Steffen (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)
Editor: Ben Knight

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