There can be no deals with the senseless logic of ETA

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The Independent Online

The spate of outrages by Basque separatists in Spain only underscores how the two deadliest nationalist terrorist movements in Europe are travelling in opposite directions. In this country we may now dare to believe that, following the resumption of the power-sharing executive at Stormont and the unprecedented decision of the IRA to grant foreign observers access to its arms dumps, a lasting peace is truly within reach in Northern Ireland.

The spate of outrages by Basque separatists in Spain only underscores how the two deadliest nationalist terrorist movements in Europe are travelling in opposite directions. In this country we may now dare to believe that, following the resumption of the power-sharing executive at Stormont and the unprecedented decision of the IRA to grant foreign observers access to its arms dumps, a lasting peace is truly within reach in Northern Ireland.

No such luck, however, in Spain. Since ETA called off a 14-month truce last December, terrorists belonging to the Basque organisation are believed to have killed nine people, most lately an army officer yesterday, in a series of assassinations and car bombings. These are a fine demonstration of the group's ability to strike targets whenever and wherever it likes, across the entire country. But what truly distinguishes ETA is its defiance of simple logic, even the twisted, blind-alley logic which drives terrorist killers.

The Spanish Basque country already enjoys very wide constitutional autonomy, and ETA's goal of independence has only the tiniest support within its homeland. As a series of colossal spontaneous demonstrations against it has proved, the group enjoys absolutely no sympathy elsewhere in Spain. And yet it persists, admittedly displaying a technical competence and elusiveness which IRA veterans might admire, but advancing the cause of its people not one whit.

What we are witnessing now is a nationwide campaign of terror to break the will of Madrid, to force it to accept that if ETA cannot be eradicated, the only course is to give in to it. Two recent victims, a Socialist councillor and a Basque businessman both sympathetic to the moderate nationalist cause, seem to have been selected to reinforce the message that there can be no middle way of dialogue and compromise.

Perhaps, during the single round of talks with ETA during the ceasefire, the Spanish government was too rigid in its insistence that terrorist disarmament must precede any negotiations about future independence. But such considerations are now superfluous. The Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, had his country's full support, and rightly so, when he insisted yesterday that there would be no truck with ETA until it lays down its weapons. Anything less would reek of surrender to the bombers and the gunmen. But the Spanish people must be prepared for more violence and more deaths. Such is the senseless logic of extreme Basque separatism.

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