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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Part Time

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency based in Ashford, Ke...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent