Spaniards urge talks with ETA after historic ceasefire

A permanent ceasefire by separatist group ETA came into effect on Friday as a poll found the vast majority of Spaniards want their government to engage in talks with the armed Basque movement.

The Opina poll released by the private Cadena Ser radio station said around 68% consider the ceasefire ”good news for Spanish society”.

The ceasefire officially began at midnight local time hours after ETA had urged the government and local people to support the peace process.

It came in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement by ETA that it was putting an end to its violent campaign for an independent state in the northern Basque region and parts of south-western France.

Just over 80% of Spaniards think Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has an ”obligation to explore avenues of dialogue with ETA to achieve a definitive end to violence”, while almost 13% had the opposite view, according to the poll of 1 000 people.

However, 34% of those polled believe the ceasefire is a ”trick” by the Basque movement.

Julen Madariaga, a co-founder of ETA in 1959, was optimistic.

”This time I think they are talking seriously. I think the process is irreversible,” Madariaga (73) told Agence France-Presse.

Spanish First Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said the government wanted dialogue and would deal with ”all parties” committed to peace, saying ”terrorists cease to be terrorists” if they hold to that commitment.

But she advised Spaniards not to get carried away in the new climate of optimism.

”The duty of government is to maintain caution,” De la Vega said after a cabinet meeting, repeating Zapatero’s warnings of a ”long and difficult road of hope” to be travelled.

Zapatero, whose Socialist Party has picked up a poll boost from the development, had made ending the ETA violence a key priority since taking office in April 2004.

He was in Brussels on Friday for an EU summit.

More than 800 people have died during nearly four decades of struggle for a Basque homeland in one of western Europe’s few internal armed conflicts. Basque broadcaster ETB said representatives of the government and ETA held months of talks abroad, including in Switzerland and Norway, ahead of the ceasefire announcement.

On January 26, Zapatero said in an interview that he believed the conflict was at ”the beginning of the end” and he had ”information” to that effect.

ETA’s declaration, calling for a move ”from words to action,” was the first time it promised to renounce violence on a ”permanent” basis. But it prompted a cautious response, rooted in the experience of past failures and broken ceasefires in 1989 and 1998-1999.

Late Thursday, United Nations chief Kofi Annan expressed his hope that the conflict was truly over.

”He urges that this commitment be honoured, thus ending the violence which has caused so much suffering over so many years,” a spokesperson said.

The European Union and the United States, which have both put ETA on their respective terror blacklists, voiced their own reservations earlier.

The European Commission called the announcement ”an important development”, but said it was up to individual governments to decide whether to take ETA off their blacklist.

Although ETA’s last fatal attack was in May 2003, it has continued to wage low-level violence with car bombs, attacks on public buildings and extortion.

In a related development, the moderate ruling Basque Nationalist Party said ETA’s political mouthpiece Batasuna ”must” be allowed to stand in 2007 local elections following ETA’s ceasefire announcement.

The Spanish judiciary banned the group three years ago for its links to ETA. — AFP



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