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Basque separatists field team for France, Spain 'talks'

Reuters

In a bid to pressure France and Spain into agreeing to direct negotiations, the Basque separatist group ETA says it has set up a delegation for talks.

Thousands of people march behind a banner which reads 'All Rights for All Projects. No to Political Trials', through Bilbao, Spain on May 5. The march was called by pro Basque independence organisation Eleak, whose leaders have been linked to separatist group ETA. (Reuters)

ETA announced an end to its armed struggle in October last year, but has failed to convince Madrid and Paris to meet with what the governments still regard as a terrorist organisation.

In a statement addressed to “the European community”, the Basque group said it had “named a delegation to embark upon a direct dialogue with the governments of France and Spain.”

“The European community and all European institutions face the challenge of supporting and promoting an open process aimed at finding a definitive solution to an ongoing conflict in the heart of Europe,” it said.

For four decades, ETA carried out a campaign of bombings and assassinations as part of a struggle to create an independent Basque homeland in part of northern Spain and a neighbouring enclave in southern France.

At least 829 people were killed in the attacks, most of which were carried out against government or economic targets in Spain, while France for many years served as a more peaceful rear base for ETA cells.

Both governments have, however, scored several victories against the group in recent years, and several separatist commanders have been imprisoned.

In October ETA said it had declared a definitive end to armed struggle.

In May an independent monitoring group, the International Verification Commission, issued a report concluding that ETA was abiding by its ceasefire and was ready for dialogue, but neither government has taken up the offer.

Spain says it will “not negotiate with terrorists” and France has said it will follow Spain’s lead and support its position. Both governments have demanded ETA’s unconditional disarmament. – Reuters

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