Eta's partial truce dismissed as a trap

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The Basque separatist group Eta called an unprecedented partial truce limited to Spainÿs autonomous Catalan region yesterday, shaking the foundations of Cataloniaÿs left-wing government for the second time in a month.

The Basque separatist group Eta called an unprecedented partial truce limited to Spainÿs autonomous Catalan region yesterday, shaking the foundations of Cataloniaÿs left-wing government for the second time in a month.

Etaÿs statement burst upon a nation embroiled in campaigning for general elections next month, with anti-terrorism and regional discontent the overriding concerns.

"Eta informs the Basque and Catalan people of the suspension of its campaign of armed action in Catalonia,Ó one of two spokesmen said in a broadcast on Basque television. The men wore white hoods and the black Basque beret.

"A revolutionary greeting to all pro-independence Catalans," the spokesman added, speaking against a backdrop of Basque and Catalan flags.

The announcement was condemned by Spainÿs ruling Popular Party as Òa trapÓ, and as Ò nauseating and immoralÓ by the Basque countryÿs conservative nationalist leader, Juan Jose Ibarretxe. Mr Ibarretxe called upon Eta to stop killing and to abandon violence throughout Spain.

The Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, said "The government wishes to express its unequivocal rejection of any kind of negotiation except for one in which they (Eta) surrender their arms."

Speaking in a televised address, Mr Aznar said: "The government will continue pursuing terrorists inside and outside Spain."

But a left-leaning Basque nationalist spokesman, Gorka Knorr, whose EA party forms part of the regionÿs coalition government said: "I am hopeful that that is just the first step. I am among those who thinks Eta is looking for a way out." Etaÿs last truce lasted 14 months, but ended in December 1999. Armed actions have continued since then, although heavy police counter-measures and the banning of sympathetic parties and support groups are thought to have seriously weakened the organisation.

Etaÿs announcement follows a political scandal that erupted after a pro-independence left-wing Catalan leader, Josep-Lluis Carod-Rovira, admitted a month ago he had secretly met Eta leaders in January. Mr Carod was forced to resign as prime minister of Cataloniaÿs socialist-led coalition government.

Madrid accused Mr Carod of trying to negotiate a ceasefire for Catalonia alone. He refused to divulge the content of his talks, but said no agreement was reached.

Spainÿs ruling Popular Party called on the Catalan socialist president Pasqual Maragall to break links with Mr Carodÿs Catalan Left party - tantamount to asking Mr Maragall to stand down. The PPÿs leading candidate in elections on 14 March, Mariano Rajoy, yesterday demanded that Mr Maragall resign.

Eta said in its statement that it had committed attacks in Catalonia since the 1980s against French and Spanish interests in the region, but that now the political climate had changed. The two regions had much in common, it added, both "being two nations oppressed by the French and Spanish states."

The truce has thrown Catalan socialists into disarray, compounding the embarrassment caused by Mr Carodÿs secret meeting. Socialists reject all contacts with Eta. The partyÿs Catalan secretary, Jos} Montilla, said Catalonia would not be used by Òthis miserable bunch of assassins,Ó and Mr Maragall urged all parties to pull together.

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