August 18, 2006

ETA threatens to respond to Spanish “repression”

By Jason Webb

MADRID (Reuters) - Basque separatist group ETA said on
Friday peace talks with the Spanish government were in crisis
and threatened to respond to what it called the repression of
pro-independence activists.

"If the attacks continue against Euskal Herria (the Basque
Country), ETA will respond," the group said, using language
which will be interpreted here as a threat to end its
five-month-old ceasefire and resume 38 years of armed struggle.

The unspecified threat was in a communique sent to Basque
newspaper Gara hours after separatist politicians complained
about a ban on ETA-linked party Batasuna.

Talks with the government were in "evident crisis," ETA
said, laying the blame on the lack of "bold decisions toward
establishing a democratic framework in Euskal Herria."

The government "has used repression to weaken the Abertzale
Left," ETA said, using the Basque term for the pro-independence

Madrid's Socialist government made no immediate comment.

Pro-government newspaper El Pais quoted unnamed officials
as saying ETA was applying pressure for Batasuna to be allowed
into planned discussions between political parties on the
future of the Basque Country.

Peace negotiations with ETA, which analysts say has been
weakened by hundreds of arrests in recent years, were announced
by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in June.

The guerrillas killed more than 800 people in their fight
for independence for the Basque Country, which straddles
northern Spain and southwestern France, although almost all of
ETA's armed activity was in Spain. The French government has
refused to talk to the separatists.

Madrid wants peace talks to concentrate on disarmament and
moving ETA prisoners closer to their homes. It also wants the
talks to run separately to deliberations between political
parties on the future of the Basque Country.

There is consensus that any deal must include Batasuna but
the Socialists say the ban on the party, imposed for links to
ETA, will not be lifted until it condemns violence.

Batasuna's leader Arnaldo Otegi accused the Socialists on
Thursday of breaking promises made in private about the ban.

Batasuna wants a referendum on independence for the Basque
Country, even though the region already enjoys considerable
autonomy over areas including education and health. Polls show
only a minority of Basques want to leave Spain.

The peace talks have been fiercely criticized by Spain's
conservative opposition which accuses Zapatero of giving in to