Delegates at a peace conference in San Sebastian yesterday urged the Basque separatists ETA to make a definitive rejection of violence, while calling on the Spanish and French governments to open up negotiations with Western Europe's last major guerrilla group should ETA lay down their weapons for good.
ETA declared a permanent ceasefire in September 2010, and are widely rumoured to be on the point of calling a definitive end to their four-decade long armed struggle, which has claimed more than 850 lives.
Hopes are high that the peace conference – with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Tony Blair's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell as headline figures – could act as a catalyst for ETA to announce its dissolution. In a five-point concluding statement read by former Irish PM Bertie Ahern, the conference also alluded to conversations "about the consequences of the struggle", the usual wording for discussions of the regrouping of convicted ETA members in prisons closer to the Basque Country.
Although the peace conference statement calls for the "rejection of violence" rather than the outright disbanding of ETA, there are widespread expectations that ETA will respond this week by at least stating the violence is over for good. Optimism that ETA's days are numbered has become more widespread after its political wing, Ekin, disbanded on 1 October, and in July ETA issued a statement saying it was prepared to "deepen the path" towards peace.
The government has made some cautious responses, most notably earlier this month when the Basque Country's Socialist premier, Patxi Lopez, said that ETA prisoners should be moved closer to their homes.
However, as of yesterday evening, ETA had not responded to the latest call to disarm, and has in the past broken previous "permanent" ceasefires, like that of 2006 which ended with a bomb exploding in Madrid airport.