World

Spain rejects ETA ceasefire

The Spanish government has rejected a new ceasefire announcement by the separatist group ETA and ruled out negotiations on an independent Basque homeland, saying the militants have been decimated by arrests and are desperate to regroup and rearm.

The Spanish government on Monday rejected a new ceasefire announcement by the separatist group ETA and ruled out negotiations on an independent Basque homeland, saying the militants have been decimated by arrests and are desperate to regroup and rearm.

A boy walks past ETA graffiti in Mondragon, Spain on Monday. Basque rebels ETA have decided to no longer carry out armed attacks, newspaper Gara said on its website on Sunday. ((Vincent West/Reuters))
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the ETA cannot be trusted after shattering a 2006 truce with a deadly car bombing. He said its statement Sunday by three hooded militants speaking in a video falls short of what Basque society and other Spaniards demand: that ETA renounce violence for good.

"The word truce, as the idea of a limited peace to open a process of dialogue, is dead," Perez Rubalcaba, adding that Spain will be as tough as ever against ETA.

"The Interior Ministry will keep its anti-terrorism policy intact, absolutely intact. We are not going to change that policy one bit, not a single comma," he told Spanish National Television.

ETA has killed more than 825 people as it fought for an independent homeland in parts of northern Spain and southwestern France since the late 1960s. Its last deadly attack in Spain was in July 2009, when it killed two policemen with a car bomb. Nearly 240 of its members have been arrested since 2008. It is considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

Perez Rubalcaba says the militant group declared the truce because it is so weak it cannot stage attacks.

The ceasefire statement left several key questions unanswered. Besides silence on whether the ETA will surrender its weapons, it did not say if the truce was open-ended and permanent, like the one declared in 2006 and which led to talks with the government, or whether it would halt other activities like extorting money from business leaders or recruiting members.

Nor was there any mention of whether the ceasefire could be monitored by international observers as called for Friday by two Basque parties that back independence: ETA's outlawed political wing Batasuna and a more moderate pro-independence party called Eusko Alkartasuna.

Since late last year, divisions have widened between ETA and the political parties that support it. Jailed ETA veterans have also been distancing themselves from the group, and French police have cracked down, denying militants a neighbouring haven.

Friday's statement marked the first time the political groups had put down in writing that they wanted ETA to work toward independence through peaceful means, rather than with violence.

Perez Rubalcaba said Monday that ETA's breaking the 2006 ceasefire — with a massive car bombing at Madrid airport that left two people dead — cost the group credibility even among political supporters who seek Basque independence.

The minister said ETA's new tactic is to seek new negotiations and, if in a few months or a year the government still refuses, ETA will say it has no choice but to revert to bombs or bullets.

He said the ETA wants to impose its will, either through violence or dialogue "and the state is going to tell it time and time again 'no, no and no."'

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