International leaders urge ETA to abandon violence for good
ETA has been waging a violent campaign for a Basque homeland for decades
Key players were not at the conference on Monday
The Spanish government says only a definitive statement that violence is over will do
A group of international leaders, including Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called Monday for the Basque terrorist group ETA to abandon violence permanently.
“We call upon ETA to make a public declaration of a definitive cessation of all armed action and to request talks with the governments of Spain and France to address exclusively the consequences of the conflict,” said a joint statement read aloud by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
Flanked by the other leaders, he spoke in San Sebastian, a principal Basque city in northern Spain, at the close of a one-day conference aimed at spurring peace in the troubled region.
“If such a declaration is made,” Ahern continued, “we urge the governments of Spain and France to welcome it and agree to talks exclusively to deal with the consequences of the conflict.”
ETA, listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, Spain and the United States, is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its long fight for Basque independence to be carved out of a section of northern Spain and southwestern France.
ETA called a unilateral “permanent” cease-fire last January, raising hopes again in Spain that an end might be near to the decades of ETA’s car bombings and point-blank shootings.
The joint statement also urged “reconciliation” and “compensation for all victims,” and suggested that political representatives meet to “discuss political issues that can contribute to a new era without ETA,” Ahern said.
But notably missing from the conference will be the Spanish government, the Basque regional government and the main opposition party in Spain, the Popular Party.
Many have been skeptical about what Monday’s conference can achieve.
“These foreigners coming to the meeting, thinking they are in Northern Ireland or South Africa, don’t have any idea about the Basque situation,” said Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a senior leader of the conservative Popular Party, on Spanish radio.
The Socialist president of the Basque regional government, Patxi Lopez, was also cautious, saying another meeting won’t end the Basque conflict, and that what’s needed is a definitive ETA statement calling it off.
But Lopez added on Spanish radio that he has no objections to the meeting if it can help somehow.
ETA has been waging a violent campaign for decades for an independent Basque homeland.
Police have cracked down on the group in Spain and France, leaving it operationally weak.
There have been numerous ETA statements calling for talks or a peace process of some sort, but all falling short of declaring a definitive end to violence.
The government says that since ETA has broken cease-fires in the past, only a definitive statement that it is putting down its arms for good will do.
Journalist Peter Taggart in Belfast, Northern Ireland contributed to this report.