Spain awaits the end of ETA, a year on from ceasefire | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 05.09.2011

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Spain awaits the end of ETA, a year on from ceasefire

The weakened Basque separatist organization has maintained a truce for the last year, fueling rumors of its imminent disbandment. However, the Spanish political climate means the government is reluctant to negotiate.

A masked Spanish Civil Guard walks next to a wall with ETA graffiti

ETA may be close to is laying down its arms

Spanish Interior Minister Antonio Camacho travelled to Paris on Monday to meet his French counterpart, with the issue of Basque separatist group ETA at the top of the agenda.

Camacho's meeting with Claude Gueant took place exactly one year after ETA announced a ceasefire, and events over the last 12 months gave the ministers plenty to talk about.

"The ball is in ETA's court, not the government's," Camacho told Radio Euskadi on Thursday, as he insisted the organization needs to follow up on its ceasefire by disbanding altogether.

ETA seeks to create a Basque state in northern Spain and southern France that is independent from Madrid and Paris. Though it has kept to its truce and has not killed since March 2010, Spain's mainstream political parties and public opinion remain skeptical about the group's intentions following its announcement a year ago.

A masked ETA member read that declaration to a camera, against a backdrop of the group's snake-and-axe emblem. The video recording, given to the BBC, stated ETA had "stopped carrying out offensive armed attacks."

It added: "If the Spanish government is willing, ETA is prepared, today as it was yesterday, to agree on the minimum democratic principles needed to embark on the democratic process."

Still poles apart

Spanish flag with the words ETA no

Will there be a military surrender?

But in the year since the ceasefire, the government and ETA appear to have agreed on very little.

In that time, the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has continued its clampdown on the separatists, and this year alone 48 people suspected of having links to the group have been arrested. This follows the arrests of several of ETA's senior leaders in recent years, as well as a string of seizures of weapons. According to Spanish daily El Pais, there are currently only around 50 active members of ETA, with several hundred more in jail.

´"ETA's decline has been very apparent over the last year," said Kepa Aulestia, an analyst for the Vocento media group. "It would be difficult now for ETA to return to being the active force it once was."

Cooperation between security forces in Spain and France - where many ETA members have traditionally taken refuge - has been a major factor in undermining the group.

Lack of motivation

"With things going so badly for them, perhaps their biggest weakness is a lack of motivation on the part of the activists themselves," said Aulestia. "What's the point in resuming a violent campaign when things are so near their end?"

Aulestia said a drop in support for ETA among ordinary Basques has helped lower tensions, after a four-decade campaign of violence that saw the group kill over 800 people in Spain.

In January, ETA updated its ceasefire with a more specific statement that seemed to include an end to its campaign of extortion of Basque businesses and individuals, a major source of funding for the organization. It also said the truce was "permanent."

Nonetheless, ETA's hopes that the Spanish state would make some concessions - for example, the movement of imprisoned terrorists closer to their families - in return for its shift away from violence appear to be in vain.

One reason for this is the legacy of the separatists' previous ceasefire, in 2006. That year, Zapatero staked a large amount of political capital on pursuing a peace process. When ETA unilaterally broke off the truce by bombing the Madrid airport and killing two people, the group appeared to have dashed its hopes of ever returning to the negotiating table.

bombed car

ETA violence has killed more than 800 people in Spain

Tough on terror

A further obstacle to ETA's ambitions of negotiating with the government is the general election, scheduled for November 20. The opposition Popular Party, favorite to win the vote, has frequently accused the Socialists of being soft on ETA. With the election approaching, both parties are talking tough on terror.

"The election campaign closes the door to any hopes ETA may have of some kind of negotiation," said Aulestia.

But despite ETA's problems, pro-independence Basques have had plenty to celebrate in recent months. Bildu, a political coalition representing radical Basque nationalism, was allowed to run in May's local elections following a legal wrangle due to its alleged links to ETA. The coalition performed well and now controls several parts of the northern region.

The nationalists behind Bildu have been credited with encouraging ETA's move away from violence and there has been speculation the group will soon make a new announcement. The Spanish government says there is now only one route for the organization.

"It's time ETA accepted that violence makes no sense and that it declared it is laying down its weapons, because it has announced a ceasefire, but without ever renouncing violence," said Interior Minister Camacho.

Author: Guy Hedgecoe, Madrid
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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