Spain rebuffs ETA on talks

The Basque separatist group ETA called for the start of a peace process in a letter published June 17. “It is essential to open a democratic process without limits and involving everyone. ETA is totally prepared to become involved in such a process,” Basque newspaper Gara quoted the group as saying in its open letter. But Spain’s Socialist government insisted the group must lay down its arms first.

“I am not going to comment on a communique from a band of terrorists,” Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a news conference after the weekly cabinet meeting. “The only communique the government wants to talk about is the one in which ETA announces the end of violence.”

ETA also claimed responsibility for a wave of recent attacks, seen as a snub to the government’s proposal, backed by parliament in May, to talk to ETA if it silenced its weapons. The four-decade ETA campaig has killed about 850 people.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said he would not discuss sovereignty issues with ETA but would hold talks on arms decommissioning and releasing prisoners.

In April, ETA also called for a peace process in a press interview, prompting a similar reaction from the government. The moves come as the leader of banned separatist party Batasuna, Arnaldo Otegi, has been charged by a High Court judge for belonging to ETA. He is now on bail.

Otegi, who lost his parliamentary immunity earlier this year, said jailing him showed the government might not be ready for peace. He has said the authorities would ignore Basque separatism if ETA abandoned its arms.

ETA, which has not killed anyone for two years, claimed responsibility in the letter for nine attacks, including several targeted at businesses that had failed to pay protection money, the so-called “revolutionary tax.” (Reuters, June 17)

ETA apparently used rocket launchers to hurl a grenade at the Zaragosa airport June 10. Nobody was injured as the group, in typical ETA fashion, had telephoned a warning beforehand, prompting the evacuation of the airport. (EITB, June 10)

See our last post on the Basque situation.