Fifth time a charm?

Basque separatist group Eta announced its decision to stop its armed activity permanently last Thursday. The announcement was met with much rejoicing from the Spanish public; according to Eta, this presents faced “a historic opportunity to obtain a just and democratic solution to the age-old political conflict” for them. Now insisting that it would campaign through peaceful means, the group hopes for a response with “a process of direct dialogue” from the Spanish and French governments. This means a considerable step towards a permanent truce. The decision was made after a peace conference in San Sebastian, which Eta said convinced it to make the long-awaited announcement.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (“Basque Homeland and Freedom”) is a Basque nationalist and separatist organisation, the main organisation of the Basque National Liberation Movement and the most important participant in the Basque conflict. Its ultimate aim is the formation of an independent Basque state in northern Spain and south-western France. It declared ceasefires several times previously and broke it each time in 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2006.  The ceasefire of 5 September 2010 is still in effect, with the recent declaration tying directly into it.

More than 700 Eta members are incarcerated in prisons in Spain, France and various other countries. Spain, the EU and the USA consider it a terrorist group. An example of Eta´s activity art the “3/11” attacks in 2004, when Eta planted bombs on commuter trains in Madrid and killed two hundred people, with several others injured. The group’s primary targets were usually government officials. Over the past 43 years, 829 people have been recorded as killed by the terrorist group.

In recent years, Eta has lost not only the majority of its members, but also the support of the majority of the Basque citizens. Its own political wing Batasuna, along with several affiliated organisations, made a public call for the end of Eta violence. Many of the imprisoned Eta members also expressed support for an older document calling for a purely political battle for Basque independence. The political organisation Ekin, often connected to Eta, has announced its decision to disband.  Conservative politicians and family members of Eta victims also proclaimed the uncertainty of peace until Eta lays down its arms.

Such a promise was last made in 2006, only to be broken by the group with the bombing of a Madrid airport car park, which killed two people. The general opinion is that a concerted Spanish and French crackdown has seriously weakened the group, but Spanish Minister of Defence Carme Chacon made it public that the government does not intend to negotiate with the group, which was a key demand in Eta´s declaration. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapateto’s demand of Eta giving up weapons completely has also been relatively ignored.

Former Minister of the Interior Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, a long-term adversary of ETA and prime minister candidate of the socialist party PSOE, called the group Etikn s decision a “great victory for democracy, law and reason.“ The final decision will rest with the new government, which is to be chosen in a general election this November.



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