Basque separatist group that has killed more than 800 people believed to be ready to make statement this week.
In a historic step for Spain, the armed Basque separatist
group Eta is this week expected to announce a definitive end to more than four
decades of violence, according to sources close to the negotiations.
With the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan flying
into the Basque country on Monday for talks and a recent call from several
hundred Eta prisoners for an end to violence, sources in the Basque country and
others involved in the process say the group will make a significant
Senior members of Socialist prime minister José Luis
Rodríguez Zapatero's government have been saying for several weeks that they
expect the group to make such a move. Eta is already observing what it terms a
"permanent" ceasefire, called in September 2010, though it has broken
previous unilateral truces that it had deemed permanent.
While it was unclear exactly what words Eta would use in
its forthcoming statement, it looks set to be an irreversible step towards the
end of a group that has killed more than 800 people in bomb and pistol attacks
across Spain over the past 43 years.
A public appeal from Annan and fellow mediators,
including the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, for Eta to embrace peace will
provide the group with an excuse for declaring its readiness to abandon arms,
according to sources. Radical Basque separatist political leaders would then
imitate moves by Adams during the Ulster peace process when, in 2005, he
appealed directly for the IRA to lay down its weapons.
Eta was expected to react quickly, though it would stop
short of announcing its dissolution. It may follow the IRA's lead by calling on
its members to use exclusively peaceful means without disbanding. Those with
experience of Eta, however, insist that the group remains unpredictable.
The dramatic new moves would come just a month before a
20 November general election that looks likely to change Spain's government,
with the conservative People's party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy predicted to win a
Although the PP has traditionally refused to consider any
sort of dialogue with Eta, it is known to have been in contact with the group
during a previous ceasefire in 1998. The hawkish PP prime minister at the time,
José María Aznar, whom Eta had tried to kill with a car bomb in 1995, even
moved some of the group's prisoners to jails closer to home in a good-will
The Basque country's Socialist regional prime minister,
Patxi López, last month responded to a call from Eta prisoners for the group to
embrace peace by proposing that those in jails around Spain be moved to Basque
Rajoy has been careful not to comment on recent signs
that Eta is looking for a way out of the dead-end of terrorism. Indeed, he has
hardly talked about Eta – which was an obsession for his party under Aznar –
over the past four years in opposition.
The PP's local leadership in the Basque country, which
has seen several of its members killed by Eta over the years, has also become
far more open to helping to finesse the group's end.
Listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the
US, Eta has been in decline for more than a decade, with its capacity to carry
out terrorist attacks on Spanish territory seriously weakened. But attempts to
wean it off violence after it called a ceasefire in 2006 failed, and the group
planted a bomb which killed two people at Madrid's Barajas airport.
Zapatero has been wary of the group ever since, but has
been expecting a significant move from Eta before the November election.
"They will definitely do something before the elections," a source
close to the prime minister said. "But the end may be long and will not be
Eta is widely regarded as an organisation that has to
come to terms with its defeat by Spanish and French policing.
A decision by the group to lay down arms may provoke the
appearance of splinter groups dedicated to keeping the violence going, similar
to the Real IRA in Northern Ireland, according to a former senior Socialist
interior ministry official.
Monday's talks will see peace mediators including Tony
Blair's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, discuss the process with local
politicians. The latter include both radical separatists close to Eta and the
Basque branch of Zapatero's Socialist party. Rajoy's PP will not attend.
"If Eta and its supporters need this in order to
bring about their final end, I want to urge them to grab this
opportunity," López told journalists in New York on Sunday.
The meeting has been denounced by opponents of talks as "Eta's
"What is in play is the future of our country, and
knowing that we can count on the help of important people and groups fills us
with hope," said Paul Rios, of the Lokarri peace group, which is
organising the conference.
The long road to peace
1959 Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque homeland and freedom)
is founded to fight for the independence of four northern Spanish provinces and
part of south-west France
1968 First confirmed assassination, of civil guard
policeman José Pardines
1973 Dictator Francisco Franco's right-hand man, Admiral
Luis Carrero Blanco, is assassinated
1975 Franco dies
1980 Most violent year: 118 killed
1992 Capture in France of collective leadership marks
start of decline
2006 "Permanent" ceasefire ends with two killed
by Madrid airport bomb
2010 Fresh ceasefire called in September, then declared
permanent in January 2011