Jailed Eta leaders say armed struggle is failing and call for political campaigns

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The Independent Online

Six senior Eta leaders serving prison terms have urged the Basque separatists' high command to abandon armed struggle in favour of political action .

Six senior Eta leaders serving prison terms have urged the Basque separatists' high command to abandon armed struggle in favour of political action .

"Things have never been so bad... In current circumstances the armed struggle that we carry out today is no longer any use. We're slowly burning to death," the Eta prisoners wrote in a letter leaked to the Navarra newspaper Diario de Noticias, and published yesterday.

This is the first time Eta's prison leaders - killers who have enormous prestige within the organisation - have acknowledged that their ranks have been devastated by sustained police action. "You can't wage an armed struggle on the basis of communiqués and threats that aren't carried out. We can't engage in armed struggle when we're so vulnerable to repression," the letter said, and urged "institutional struggle and mass action" instead.

The letter reveals a fierce internal debate taking place within Eta. It was written in August, before last month's police raids in south-west France in which the group's top two leaders were arrested and enormous quantities of arms and explosives seized. Among the signatories is Francisco Mugica Garmendia, alias Pakito, the former boss of Eta's military apparatus. The five others are also veterans.

A spokeswoman for the region's ruling Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Miren Azkarate, said that the letter "recognised that violence has neither sense nor future" and showed the idea of abandoning arms "was gaining force".

But the Association of Victims of Terrorism feared that the letter reflected an "internal pact" between Eta and the PNV, in which Eta would abandon arms in exchange for a plan for Basque independence to be put to the region in a referendum.

Joseba Azkarraga, the Basque government's Justice Minister, urged the separatist party Sozialista Abertzaleak, formerly Batasuna, to demonstrate its independence by urging an end to violence. Arnaldo Otegi, its leader, was non-committal. He urged journalists to interview the Eta prisoners "to find out what they really think". The leak could have been a manoeuvre by ruling politicians, Mr Otegi said.

Police detained six Eta members suspected of gathering information for attacks in dawn raids in Bilbao yesterday.

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