Basque ceasefire rejected

The Spanish authorities today defied international peace appeals and said they will maintain their bloody conflict with Basque armed group ETA, which is fighting to win independence for a Basque state northeast of Spain.

ETA declared the unilateral ceasefire in a video broadcast by the BBC on Sunday. The video showed three figures, dressed in black, with only their eyes visible through slits in white masks, sitting at a table beneath an Eta serpent-and-hammer flag. The voice of a woman sitting in the middle announced the decision to cease offensive armed action.

“ETA confirms its commitment to looking for a democratic solution to this conflict. We call on all Basque citizens to continue with our struggle by whatever methods they have so that we can all make irreversible steps along the road to freedom,” the woman read.

The statement defended the group’s armed struggle but said it now wanted to find a democratic solution to the conflict.

The Batasuna political party, outlawed because of its association with the ETA, had been calling for a ceasefire so the party could function without the threat of arrest.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams welcomed the ceasefire announcement and urged the Spanish government to seize the opportunity for what he believed could be a permanent end to the decades-long conflict.

The Madrid administration is demanding the ETA decommission all weapons and permanently renounce violence as a first step and as a precondition to any talks.

Mr Adams and other senior Sinn Fein figures have been involved in long-running contacts with senior Basque separatist representatives in the past year or more for the purpose of helping end the conflict.

He said that significant talks took place at the end of last year and earlier this year, where participants drew on the lessons of the Irish peace process.

Mr Adams said in February that the collapse of the ETA ceasefire in December 2006 after only nine months was a huge disappointment.

At the time Mr Adams also wrote: “There is a real opportunity for a fundamental change in the relationship between the Basque country and the Spanish state. There is an onus on everyone to grasp this in good faith and to make every effort to bring an end to conflict in that region.”

He reiterated that comment yesterday when welcoming the Eta announcement. “This is a significant statement and has the potential to bring about a permanent end to the long-running conflict in the Basque country,” he said.

“It is now vital that the Spanish government respond positively and grasp the opportunity to advance a peace process presented by announcement and quickly establish inclusive political negotiations.”

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