ETA ready for verifiable, permanent ceasefire: Report

ETA campaigns for securing an independent Basque homeland.

Madrid: The armed Basque separatist group ETA is ready to observe a permanent and verifiable ceasefire, the website of Basque newspaper Gara reported on Saturday, based on interviews with two ETA members.

"ETA is willing to take that step and also to go further" if the conditions are right, the group`s representatives replied when asked if they would be willing to commit to a permanent and verifiable ceasefire.

"The goal is to resolve the (Basque) political conflict democratically, to close the wound forever, and in order to do that we are all obliged to act responsibly," the ETA members told the pro-independence Basque newspaper, which often publishes statements from the group.

The ETA members said a halt in offensive actions announced earlier by the group was long term, and that the group would like to see a dialogue on ending the conflict with discussions involving Basque parties and civic groups.

But the Spanish government rejected ETA`s latest move, the third since the start of September, just as it did the first two by the group that is considered terrorist by the European Union.

A government source quoted by the website of daily El Mundo declared: "Statements and interviews are a waste of time, the only thing we`re waiting for is a final end to violence."

Earlier on Saturday, ETA came under pressure from its political wing, Batasuna, to show its willingness to permanently renounce violence.

Batasuna joined with several other pro-independence parties to sign an agreement on peace initiatives in the Basque region, and they urged ETA to halt its campaign of violence.

ETA, blamed for 829 deaths in a campaign of bombings and shootings to secure an independent Basque homeland, has released two declarations in the past month proposing an end to violence and calling for international mediation.

The Spanish government dismissed both declarations as they fell short of its demand for the group to lay down arms permanently.

In a September 05 video declaration, ETA said it had decided several months ago to halt armed offensive actions. But the ceasefire was rejected outright by Madrid for failing to promise a permanent end to the violence.

Then on September 19 ETA called for international mediation to resolve the Basque question, referring to a group of international mediators who had urged the group to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire.

However, the call failed to clearly spell out their willingness to lay down their arms forever, and Spanish officials again said it was insufficient.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero`s government refuses to negotiate with ETA unless it abandons the armed struggle, recalling that ETA broke a previous promise to end the bloodshed.

ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 and started tentative peace talks with Madrid.

But in December 2006 it set off a bomb in a car park at Madrid`s airport, killing two men, and in June 2007 it formally called off its ceasefire, citing a lack of concessions by the government in peace talks.

The Spanish authorities believe ETA has been severely weakened since then. Spanish security forces, working in cooperation with other countries, particularly France, have arrested many suspected members of the leadership.

In the latest blow on September 14, more than 300 police officers detained nine leaders of Ekin, an ETA support group declared illegal by Spain`s National Court in 2007.

ETA has also been coming under pressure from Batasuna, ruled illegal in 2003 due to its links with ETA, to make peace.

It wants the ban on its own activities to be lifted so it can take part in municipal elections next year.

Bureau Report