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Spain separatist group announces ceasefire

The Basque separatist militant group ETA declared a ceasefire in a video statement issued on Sunday, suggesting it might turn to a political process in its quest for independence.

The Basque separatist militant group ETA declared a ceasefire in a video statement issued on Sunday, suggesting it might turn to a political process in its quest for independence.

The video, which appeared on Basque newspaper Gara's website and was also made available to the British broadcaster BBC, showed three masked militants making a statement in Basque. Gara accompanied the video with a transcription of the statement in Basque and Spanish.

There was no immediate response from the Spanish government.

"ETA makes it known that as of some months ago it took the decision to no longer employ offensive armed actions," the statement said, suggesting it is ready to pursue a "democratic process," in trying to achieve its goals.

ETA is seeking an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. It is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the U.S. It has killed more than 825 people since the late 1960s.

The militant group has declared ceasefires before, but none of them has led to the end of Europe's last major armed militancy.

The group last announced what it called a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006, but on Dec. 30 of the same year the organization set off a powerful car bomb at Madrid's Barajas international airport that killed two people.

There was no immediate reaction from the Spanish government on the latest offer. After the Dec. 30 bombing the government said it will not negotiate with the group again.

ETA's statement came days after two Basque pro-independence parties asked the group to declare "an internationally verifiable ceasefire." One of the parties, Batasuna, was outlawed by authorities in 2003 on the grounds that it was ETA's political wing.

It was not clear whether the new truce offer is permanent or whether ETA is signalling it is ready for peace talks with the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba had said on Friday he was expecting a ceasefire statement from ETA.

The militant group has been weakened by the arrests of several of its top leaders in Spain, France and Portugal, where a bomb-making factory was discovered and dismantled by police in February.

The last time ETA struck in Spain was last July, when a blast widely blamed on the group killed two policemen in the resort island of Mallorca.

But the group is suspected of having shot and killed a French police officer near Paris in March.

Gara quoted an ETA statement at the time saying the shooting happened because French police had "kidnapped four ETA militants."

French police said they had captured the men during a suspected car theft.

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