Eta to 'keep taking up arms' in secession war

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The Basque separatist group Eta will "keep taking up arms" until the region achieves independence, according to militants claiming to speak for the group.

The warning came in a statement read on Saturdayby a masked Eta militant at a pro-independence rally in Aritxulegi near San Sebastian, said the newspaper Gara, which often serves as a mouthpiece for Eta. "Until we achieve independence and socialism in the Basque country, we reaffirm our commitment to keep taking up arms firmly," the statement said. "The fight is not a thing of the past. It is the present and the future."

The statement made no mention of the ceasefire Eta declared on 22 March, Gara said. Previous Eta statements since the truce began have said it remains in force, even if Eta complained about how the peace process was evolving.

When it declared the truce in March, Eta said it wanted a negotiated end to a 40-year conflict in which it has killed more than 800 people. The Socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, concluded in June that the ceasefire was sincere and told parliament he would negotiate with Eta, but only to achieve its dissolution - not to make concessions toward Basque independence. In a speech yesterday, Mr Zapatero said Eta must eschew violence and "engage in politics and nothing more than politics".

The government-Eta talks have yet to begin. Eta's outlawed political wing, Batasuna, wants to take part in proposed separate talks among political parties in the Basque region on the future of the area. The government ruled this out until Batasuna renounces Eta.

Groups claiming to support Eta have committed petrol bomb attacks on banks, buses and political party offices since June. No one has been hurt.

The government had said that it would not negotiate with Eta unless it ended all forms of violence. Ministers regularly condemn Eta attacks but have not said that they will halt their plans to negotiate with Eta.

On Friday, a radio station in Pamplona and a courthouse in Marquina were attacked. Three bank cash dispensers were burnt on Saturday night in Durango and San Sebastian. The attacks intensified in late August after Eta issued a statement saying that the peace process was at a crisis stage.

It accused the government of not living up to its own promise of a "ceasefire," apparently meaning a promise to stop arresting Eta members.