ETA ceasefire spells peace after four-decade campaign
THE Basque separatist group ETA has announced a "definitive cessation" to its violence in what could be an end to a four-decade campaign that has claimed more than 800 lives.
In a statement, ETA called on the Spanish and French governments to respond with "a process of direct dialogue".
"ETA has decided the definitive cease of its armed activity," the group said in a statement issued in Basque, Spanish, French and English on the website of 'Gara', the Basque newspaper and usual mouthpiece for the terrorist group. It also released the declaration to the BBC.
"ETA calls upon the Spanish and French governments to open a process of a direct dialogue with the aim of addressing the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and, thus, to overcome the armed confrontation," it said. "Through this historical declaration, ETA shows its clear, solid and definitive commitment."
In a surprise move, the Spanish government went further than expected and welcomed the move as a positive step.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, declared the announcement a "victory for democracy, law and reason", but said the 821 victims would never be forgotten.
"Ours will be a democracy without terrorism, but not without memory," he said. "At this time I think in particular about the Basque society. I am sure that from now onwards, they will finally enjoy a society which is not dependent on fear or intimidation; a society truly free; a society in peace."
The declaration had been anticipated following a peace conference in the Basque Country on Monday in which international negotiators called on ETA to give up its arms.
But in this latest communique, ETA appeared to fall short of announcing plans to hand over its weapons.
The declaration of peace is the latest move in a process which could see the end to the last armed struggle in Europe. The terrorist group announced a "permanent ceasefire" in September last year but the Spanish government insisted it meant little unless accompanied by disarmament.
The declaration follows the conference in San Sebastian, attended by international statesmen including Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, and figures in the Northern Ireland peace process.
It called for the Spanish government to open negotiations.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, welcomed the response and urged Spain and France to agree to talks. Mr Adams said the parties involved had to focus on reconciliation, victims and healing personal and social wounds caused by the violence, while Madrid needed to build confidence.
Spain's socialist government has been cautious about engaging in negotiations since the last "permanent ceasefire" ended abruptly with a bomb at Madrid airport in December 2006, killing two people and injuring hundreds. (© Daily Telegraph, London)