Basque separatist group ETA calls off cease-fire

Year-long truce to end midnight Tuesday; blames Spanish gov't for failed peace process.

ETA basque 298ap (photo credit: AP [file])
ETA basque 298ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The armed Basque separatist group ETA said Tuesday it has called off the cease-fire it declared last year, setting the stage for a resumption of attacks. ETA said in a statement sent to two Basque newspapers that the truce it called in March 2006 will end at midnight Tuesday. ETA said it will be "active on all fronts to defend the Basque homeland." It blamed the government for a failed peace process. Most of Spain, however, had considered the cease-fire to be over when ETA blew up a Madrid airport parking garage Dec. 30, killing two people. Even so, ETA insisted at the time that the truce stood, and said the two fatalities were unintended. When ETA declared the cease-fire last year, it called the truce permanent and said it wanted a negotiated end to the nearly 40-year conflict, which has left more than 800 people dead and made ETA Europe's last armed political militancy. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced in June 2006 that his government would negotiate with ETA, although only to achieve its dissolution, not make political concessions. These talks, never confirmed by the government but widely believed to have taken place, made no significant progress and Zapatero's government said after the December bombing that it would not have contact with ETA. Now, ETA has formally declared an end to the cease-fire. It blamed Zapatero for the failure of the peace process, and contended that the Basque leg of local elections on May 27 were illegitimate because most pro-independence politicians that wanted to run were barred by Spanish courts on grounds of links to ETA's outlawed political wing, Batasuna. The pro-independence movement had called these elections a key part of the peace process. "Zapatero's character has turned into a fascism that left parties and citizens without rights," ETA said. Zapatero will address the nation later Tuesday, his office said. ETA reiterated assertions that despite its having called the cease-fire, the Spanish judicial system continued to arrest and hold trials of ETA members and suspects. In the past, it has suggested the government committed itself to going easy on the pro-independence movement while negotiations were under way. Now, "minimum democratic conditions for a negotiating process do not exist," ETA said in the statement sent to the pro-independence newspapers Berria and Gara. The announcement does not come entirely as a surprise. ETA had warned in a series of communiques in recent months that it was not pleased with how the peace process was going. The heady spirit of optimism that came with the March 2006 cease-fire announcement gradually vanished. Police were quoted by the newspaper El Pais on Monday as saying they feared a resumption of ETA violence and had warned the government to this effect. In December 2006, just two weeks before the bombing at Madrid airport, police in the Basque region found nearly 50 kilograms of explosives along with detonators, bomb-making equipment and equipment for making false car license plates. They said it all belonged to ETA.