Basque separatists signal end to 35 years of conflict

Spain's banned Batasuna party, widely considered the political mouthpiece of the armed Basque separatist group Eta, offered last night to open a process of negotiations and dialogue to achieve peace in the Basque country.

Spain's banned Batasuna party, widely considered the political mouthpiece of the armed Basque separatist group Eta, offered last night to open a process of negotiations and dialogue to achieve peace in the Basque country.

The plan announced by Batasuna calls for an agreement between Eta and Spain and France on demilitarising the 35-year conflict and a referendum in the Basque country on its future. "It's more difficult to make peace sometimes than to make war. To make peace means getting the political and armed conflict off the streets and taking it to the negotiating table," Batasuna's leader Arnaldo Otegi, a former Eta hitman, told a rally in San Sebastian.

"To make peace means ... even going so far in the end as to seek the involvement of our enemies. We know it well, we are prepared, we accept it, we have a firm commitment to do it," Mr Otegi told up to 10,000 supporters in a sports stadium.

Batasuna's dramatic plea is the party's most important political gesture since it was banned nearly two years ago. Batasuna stopped short of condemning violence, and Mr Otegi did not call for Eta to lay down arms. But his assertion that peace was now the priority, and his promise to stick to democratic methods breaks from the usual belligerent rhetoric and could bring a truce nearer.

There has been nothing comparable since 1998 when similar gestures heralded a 14-month Eta truce. Batasuna leaders recognised for the first time the "current reality" that Navarra, the Basque country and the French Basque region were three separate areas. Hitherto they have insisted as a condition for talks that the three regions formed an indivisible Basque homeland.

But observers warned that Batasuna's declaration, albeit a first step towards ending the conflict, could easily falter and yield to resumed violence. Batasuna is not Eta. No one expects Eta to lay down arms just yet. The separatist movement is convulsed by debates between conciliators and hardliners. The internal debate was revealed by a letter last month from six veteran Eta leaders in prison to the organisation's high command, urging an end to armed struggle. About 100 Eta leaders have been detained in police raids, devastating the organisation and demoralising its militants.

The government could simply rebuff the gesture. "Batasuna has little bargaining power and the government could just tell it to get lost," said Gorka Espiau of the pro-dialogue group, Elkarri. "But that risks strengthening the hardliners and producing more Eta violence in the medium term. Or Madrid could seize this moment of Batasuna's weakness as an opportunity to help the party back to democratic political activity."

A spokesman for the ruling Socialists, was wary of Batasuna's proposals: "There are those in the radical world who talk of dialogue among everyone. They must be reminded that ... in a democracy, you can only listen to the voices of those who talk, and not to guns."

Yesterday's meeting was technically illegal, and Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party called for it to be banned. But the fact that the gathering was tolerated ­ and extensively trailed in the Basque media throughout the weekend ­ shows how Spain's political climate has changed since the 11 March train bombings and the election three days later of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government.

Mr Zapatero has muted the fierce anti-Basque rhetoric of his predecessor Jose Maria Aznar, but he still refuses to talk to Eta until it renounces violence. Basque Socialists meanwhile, are reported to have had talks with Batasuna leaders, contacts that both sides deny.

The Socialist mayor of San Sebastian, Odon Elorza, urged Mr Zapatero to consider moving hundreds of Basque prisoners jailed throughout Spain to prisons nearer home, and to consider lifting the ban on Batasuna if the party promised to stick to democratic activities.

A struggle for independence

1959 Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom) founded

1968 First killing, of a policeman, in San Sebastian

1973 ETA kills PM, Luis Carrero Blanco, in Madrid

1978 Political wing, Herri Batasuna, set up

1980 ETA's bloodiest year ­ nearly 100 killed.

1987 ETA apologises after bomb left in Barcelona supermarket kills 21.

1995 Car bomb attempt on life of opposition leader (later PM) Jose Maria Aznar

1997 Kidnapping and murder of Basque councillor Miguel Angel Blanco.

19 199798 ETA announces truce

1999 ETA calls off ceasefire

2001 Bomb in Madrid injures 100. Judge shot in Bilbao.

2003 Supreme Court outlaws Herri Batasuna. Two policemen killed by car bomb.

2004 ETA leader Mikel Antza arrested

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments