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Spain rejects peace talks with 'untrustworthy' Eta

The Spanish government yesterday rejected a new ceasefire announcement by the separatist group Eta and ruled out negotiations on an independent Basque homeland, saying the militant group had been decimated by arrests and is desperate to regroup and rearm.

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's interior minister, said that Eta cannot be trusted after it broke a 2006 truce with a deadly car bombing. He said its statement on Sunday, given by three hooded militants speaking in a video, falls short of what Basque society and other Spaniards demand: that Eta renounce violence for good.

"The word truce, as the idea of a limited peace to open a process of dialogue, is dead," Mr Rubalcaba said, adding that Spain will be as tough as ever against Eta.

"The Interior Ministry will keep its anti-terrorism policy intact, absolutely intact. We are not going to change that policy one bit, not a single comma," he told Spanish National Television.

Eta has killed more than 825 people during its campaign for an independent homeland in parts of northern Spain and south-western France since the late 1960s. Its last deadly attack in Spain was in July 2009, when it killed two policemen with a car bomb. Nearly 240 of its members have been arrested since 2008. It is considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

Mr Rubalcaba said the militant group declared the truce because it is so weak it cannot stage attacks.

The ceasefire statement left several key questions unanswered. Besides silence on whether Eta will surrender its weapons, it did not say if the truce was open-ended and permanent, like the one declared in 2006 and which led to talks with the government, or whether it would halt other activities like extorting money from business leaders or recruiting members.

Nor was there any mention of whether a ceasefire could be monitored by international observers as called for last Friday by two Basque parties that back independence: Eta's outlawed political wing Batasuna and a more moderate pro-independence party called Eusko Alkartasuna.

Since late last year, divisions have widened between Eta and the political parties that support it. Jailed Eta veterans have also distanced themselves from the group, and French police have cracked down, denying militants a neighboring haven. Friday's statement marked the first time the political groups had put down in writing that they wanted Eta to work toward independence through peaceful means, rather than with violence.

Mr Rubalcaba said that Eta's breaking of the 2006 ceasefire – with a massive car bombing at Madrid airport that left two people dead – cost the group credibility among political supporters who seek Basque independence.

The minister said Eta's new tactic is to seek new negotiations and, if in a few months or a year the government still refuses, Eta will say it has no choice but to revert to bombs and bullets.

He claimed that Eta wants to impose its will, either through violence or dialogue "and the state is going to tell it time and time again 'no, no and no'."