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

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

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

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London