After 43 years of bloodshed, Eta agrees to lay down its weapons

Basque separatists choose to end armed struggle following high-profile global peace conference

Madrid

After 43 years and the loss of more than 800 lives, the Basque separatist group Eta declared early yesterday evening that it was making a "definitive cessation" of all armed activity – a statement widely interpreted in Spain as meaning one of Western Europe's most deeply ingrained and bloodiest conflicts is finally over.

As when Eta last declared a permanent ceasefire, in September 2010, yesterday's declaration was made by three hooded figures flanked by flags, filmed in a grainy video, with no mention whatsoever of the victims of the group's half-century of bombings and shootings.

However, the latest communiqué – made on the website of Gara, the newspaper traditionally considered to be the closest to Eta – was far less ambiguous than the one made 13 months ago. It contained a categorical statement of the group's "definitive, direct and firm intention" to resolve "the consequences of the conflict".

Eta's statement comes three days after a high-profile international "peace conference" took place in San Sebastian with Kofi Annan, Gerry Adams and Tony Blair's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, as headline figures. It concluded with a five-point programme insisting on a definitive rejection of violence and calling for three-way negotiations with the French and Spanish governments.

"The conference... brought together all the elements for a complete solution of the conflict and has the support of large sectors of the Basque society and the international community," Eta's statement said.

Eta's farewell to arms also follows a highly successful police campaign against the group in recent years that cut its numbers to an estimated four- or five-dozen "active" terrorists at most. Almost 500 Eta members are in Spanish jails, and political support for its use of violence among radical Basque left-wing parties has steadily ebbed. By the time the so-called izquierda abertzale parties, spearheaded by Eta's outlawed political wing, Batasuna, made their latest call for an end to the violence on Tuesday, there had already been a year of unilateral ceasefire.

It seemed all Eta could be lacking was a leader with sufficient charisma to convince his fellow terrorists the time for armed insurrection was over: finally, political and social pressure, as well as the police campaign, have probably proved enough.

The conflict itself has marked more than two generations of Spaniards and among the victims were Admiral Carrero Blanco, widely believed to be General Franco's successor, who was killed by a car bomb in 1973, and 21 civilians killed when Eta blew up a hypermarket in Barcelona in 1987.

"This will be a democracy without terrorism but not without a memory," said Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, before paying homage to all of Eta's victims "who suffered the unjust and repulsive blows of terror. The unity of all the Spanish and Basque political parties has been the decisive factor in this outcome."

"This is the end of decades of a constant threat to Spanish society, of the death of innocents, of bombings and shots in the back on the neck," added Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who will lead Zapatero's Socialist party in November's general elections, "but it's democracy that's finally won. I just wish this day had come before."

Even Mariano Rajoy, leader of Spain's opposition Partido Popular (PP), which is widely expected to win a landslide victory next month, claimed that Eta's declaration was "great news, because there have been no political concessions made".

If elected, Rajoy will face strong pressure not to make any concessions. Hardline elements in his party have already pointed out that Eta's latest statement includes no confirmation that the group will actually disarm or disband.

"Communiqués like this one have zero credibility," claimed Esperanza Aguirre, president of Madrid's regional government, while Ignacio Cosido, a Spanish parliamentary spokesman for the PP, said, "If they're serious, they [Eta] should hand over their weapons."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat