Basque separatists say they are ready for international mediation to solve conflict with Spain

By Harold Heckle, AP
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Basque separatists want peace talks with Spain

MADRID — The armed Basque separatist group ETA said Sunday that it is willing to accept international mediation to help solve its long-running conflict with Spain’s government.

Two weeks after it announced a cease-fire, the group said in a statement published by Basque newspaper Gara on Sunday that it is willing to “jointly explore” with overseas mediators the steps required for a democratic process, “including commitments to be taken by ETA.”

Since launching its violent campaign for an independent Basque homeland in the late 1960s, ETA has killed more than 825 people. The group previously announced what it called a permanent cease-fire in 2006, but ended it with a car bombing at Madrid’s main airport that killed two people and destroyed a parking garage later that year.

Spain’s government has repeatedly said progress can only be made when ETA renounces violence for good.

ETA said it is prepared to consider proposals put forward in March by 19 people, including four Nobel peace laureates, in a document called the Brussels Declaration.

That document called on ETA to announce a permanent, unilateral, unconditional and internationally verifiable cease-fire. Among its signatories were former South African president F.W. De Klerk, archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Irish leaders Mary Robinson and John Hume.

ETA’s statement in Gara, a pro-independence daily that often serves as ETA’s mouthpiece, did not mention a permanent or verifiable cease-fire.

The statement comes a day after the Spanish newspaper El Pais released a video on its website believed to have been filmed by ETA earlier this year as a training aid which shows a hooded gunman practicing assassination techniques by shooting into a car.

The newspaper did not reveal how it had acquired the video, but several TV news bulletins also showed the footage, which suggests that ETA is still training militants to kill.

ETA has come under pressure from pro-independence parties Batasuna and Eusko Alkartasuna, which earlier this month called on the armed group to declare a cease-fire that could be independently verified. They did so in writing, something unprecedented in Basque separatist politics.

Batasuna, which was banned in 2003 on grounds it is part of ETA, hopes to field candidates in Basque local elections scheduled for next year.

If it fails to secure seats in Basque town councils, it could face political oblivion because the party is not represented in the regional legislature or the national parliament in Madrid, and it misses subsidies that come with having elected members.

Since 2008, 287 ETA members have been arrested in Spain, France and elsewhere, including six men described as ETA’s top leaders.

ETA’s last deadly attack was a July 2009 car bomb that killed two policemen on the island of Mallorca. It is considered a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the U.S.

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