March 23, 2006

ETA truce starts but Spain and Europe demand more

By Gideon Long and Elisabeth O'Leary

MADRID/SAN SEBASTIAN (Reuters) - A ceasefire declared by
Basque separatists ETA came into force on Friday as politicians
in Spain and throughout Europe urged the group to hand over its
weapons and renounce violence for good.

The truce, announced unexpectedly on Wednesday, came into
force at midnight (2300 GMT), ushering in hopes that after 38
years in which it has killed about 850 people, ETA might
finally have abandoned its violent campaign for Basque

The group has described the ceasefire as "permanent," a
word it has never used before in such circumstances.

Spain and the European Union have welcomed the move but
want more from a group that once defied dictator Francisco
Franco but has since lost much of its impetus as Spain has
embraced democracy and regional autonomy.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero plans to meet
opposition parties next week to discuss what might happen next.

His left-wing government has declined to say when, or even
if, it might start talking to ETA which, since the peace
process unfolded in Northern Ireland, has been left isolated as
one of Europe's few remaining armed guerrilla groups.

"ETA must give clear signals of a definitive end to
violence," said secretary of state for communications Fernando
Moraleda, who acts as spokesman for Zapatero.

Most Spaniards have welcomed ETA's ceasefire but fear it
may yet prove to be another false dawn. The group has announced
several such truces before but has broken them all.

The center-right European Popular Party, which groups
Spain's main opposition party, struck a popular chord when it
made four demands of ETA in a forthright statement on Thursday.

"(There must be) an unconditional handover of weapons, a
definitive dissolution (of ETA), a clear renunciation of
violence and intimidation and an apology to its victims," it

The European Union said it was too soon to say whether
Batasuna, the party regarded as ETA's political wing, would be
taken off its list of terrorist groups.


Analysts say that, even if ETA and the Spanish government
do get to the negotiating table, the result will fall far short
of ETA's traditional demand for self-determination and a state
carved out of northeast Spain and southwest France.

Instead, negotiations would probably focus on disarmament,
and the future of about 500 ETA prisoners in Spain.

"The Basque country enjoys a very, very considerable degree
of autonomy already," said Charles Powell, history professor at
San Pablo CEU university in Madrid, referring to the region's
parliament, police force, tax-raising powers and responsibility
for its own health and education services.

"It's difficult to see what other concessions, other than
symbolic concessions, can actually be made within the
constitutional framework."

Analysts linked ETA's truce to moves by the Socialist
government to give more power to the northeast region of
Catalonia in the form of a new statute calling it a "nation"
within Spain.

Some have speculated that, if Catalonia can be deemed a
nation within a nation, so can the Basque Country.

Advocates of Basque independence point to the region's
ancient traditions and unique language, which bears no relation
to Spanish, to support their separatist agenda.

That argument holds little water for most Spaniards and
even in the region itself, Batasuna, the closest party to ETA
in its ideology, won only 10 percent of the vote the last time
it stood in elections.

Friday's ceasefire could mark the beginning of the end for
a group that was formed in 1959 and grew up with the student
movements of the 1960s, carrying out its first killing in 1968.

Its most daring attack took place in 1973 when it
assassinated Franco's prime minister with a massive bomb which
blew his car right over the top of a building in Madrid.

However, ETA's power, or will, to kill and maim has waned,
scores of its activists have been jailed and it has not
murdered anyone since May 2003.

(Additional reporting by Jane Barrett and Julia Hayley in