Eta calls for international help to start talks

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The Basque militant group Eta has sent a letter to the BBC appealing for international participation in a negotiated solution to the conflict, Spanish news reports said last night.

The communiqué demanded recognition of Basque and Catalan rights as nations, but failed to call a truce - the condition the government has long demanded as the prelude for any talks, El Pais's website reported. The government said it would respond favourably only to a communiqué announcing an end to terrorist violence, state radio reports said.

The statement was apparently sent to the embassies of several European governments and international organisations.

The text included Eta's analysis of the political background to the decades-long conflict. The organisation conceded that Spain's socialist government had "made statements that introduced new elements", but "failed to address the fundamental roots of the problem". The organisation complained that its initiatives to help open talks with Madrid, such as halting attacks on elected politicians and journalists, had met no government response. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government still subjected the Basque country to "a state of siege", it said.

Rumours of a possible ceasefire have been swirling for months, as Eta is thought to be weakened by a string of arrests in France, where its leaders hide out. Socialists have been engaged in discreet contact with Basque radicals, but the government insists publicly it will have no truck with the separatists until they renounce violence.

Eta last called a truce in late 1998, which lasted 14 months: the organisation notified the BBC first.