September 27, 2005

ETA bomb undermines Spanish peace hopes

By Emma Pinedo

MADRID (Reuters) - Basque separatists on Tuesday exploded
their second bomb in four days, after a two-month lull which
had fueled hopes of a truce.

The blast at a disused electricity substation near Zaragoza
in northeast Spain caused slight damage but no injuries.

The Basque highway agency received a warning phone call
from outlawed separatist group ETA, giving police time to
cordon off the area before the bomb went off at about 8 a.m. (2
a.m. Eastern Time).

Hours earlier ETA had issued a statement in which the
outlawed organization said it saw a chance of reaching a
"democratic situation" which recognized the rights of the
Basque country.

On Saturday night, a car bomb exploded at an industrial
park in central Spain, causing no injuries. Two Basque
newspapers had received calls in the name of ETA warning of the

ETA, classed as a terrorist group by Spain, the European
Union and the United States, has killed nearly 850 people since
1968 in a bombing and shooting campaign for an independent
Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Spain's Socialist government fueled speculation there might
be a breakthrough in the long-running conflict in May with an
unprecedented offer to talk to ETA if it stopped violence.

El Mundo newspaper reported this month that ETA would
announce a truce in the next three months following indirect
contacts with the government. The government has denied any
such contacts.


Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso called for a halt to
speculation about what ETA might do.

"The fact is that ETA is alive, operational, has the
ability to attack and is using it," he told reporters.

In a statement, he said the government had to continue
fighting ETA "with all the force of the democratic rule of

Miguel Sanz, head of the Navarre regional government, said
authorities should not talk to ETA. "It's a terrorist
organization, a band of criminals that has no other goal than
to kill, murder and blackmail," he told state radio.

The group has sent conflicting signals since the
government's offer in May.

In June, ETA called for a peace process and said it would
stop attacking elected Spanish politicians. A month later, it
said it would still target members of the Spanish government.

Unusually, ETA did not conduct a bombing campaign in
Spanish tourist resorts this summer and it has not killed
anyone for more than two years.

In a statement to Gara newspaper on Tuesday, ETA said it
saw "new opportunities and new risks."

It said its enemies would concede nothing to it, but added
that "the chance of reaching a democratic situation in which
the rights of Euskal Herria (the Basque country) are recognized
is also there."

(Additional reporting by Inmaculada Sanz, Gideon Long)