Spain spurns offer of talks with Eta's political wing

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The Independent Online

The Spanish government rejected a proposal for peace talks from Basque militants yesterday on the ground that it contained no appeal to Eta to end its campaign of violence.

The Spanish government rejected a proposal for peace talks from Basque militants yesterday on the ground that it contained no appeal to Eta to end its campaign of violence.

Spain's Justice Minister, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, insisted that negotiations with the banned party Batasuna - seen as the political wing of the armed group Eta - would be impossible until it explicitly renounced violence.

"We don't want a single word with Eta or anything in its entourage," he said. "I don't see how a party that has never condemned violence can act in any sphere of public life." Former members of Batasuna announced proposals for a long-term solution to the conflict at a rally in San Sebastian on Sunday as a crowd of 15,000 chanted slogans supporting Eta.

The seven-point plan contained two marked policy shifts, advocating dialogue between all parties in the region - not just Basque nationalist parties - and agreeing that Batasuna itself - as opposed to Eta - would negotiate an end to the conflict as part of that final-status dialogue.

But the proposals announced by the former Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi made no mention of a halt in violence or, indeed, a condemnation of the approximately 800 deaths for which it has been blamed over the past 40 years.

Mr Otegi said yesterday that it was his party's intention to look beyond a temporary truce, such as the one declared by Eta in the summer of 1998 which lasted 14 months, and try to find a long-term solution.

"We are not talking about truces, but about solving the conflict," he told Basque Radio.

Mr Otegi's only apparent allusion to Eta violence was a pledge that any referendum on a political agreement reached by those for and against Basque independence "would be carried out in peaceful, democratic conditions".

Meanwhile, Spain's conservative Popular Party said Sunday's rally was illegal, and argued that it should not have been allowed to take place as Batasuna is essentially part of a group recognised by Spain, the EU and the US as a terrorist organisation and was outlawed in March last year. Prosecutors in San Sebastian said they would open an investigation into whether the rally broke a law which forbids the praising of terrorism.

More than 200 members of Eta have been arrested over the past two years; its power has been diminished considerably. Earlier this month, six imprisoned former leaders urged the group's underground leadership to abandon violence, claiming Eta had been defeated by Spanish security forces.

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