Basque rebels ETA say ending Spanish ceasefire

MADRID Tue Jun 5, 2007 4:36pm EDT

1 of 4. Spokespersons for banned pro-Basque independence party Batasuna, Arnaldo Otegi (L) and Pernando Barrena address a news conference in San Sebastian, June 5, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent West

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MADRID (Reuters) - Armed Basque separatist group ETA said on Tuesday it will end its 15-month-old ceasefire at midnight and warned the Spanish government of new attacks "on all fronts".

In a communique sent to Basque media, the rebels said they were calling off the truce because of "arrests, tortures and every type of persecution" by the Socialist government, which tried unsuccessfully to negotiate peace last year.

ETA, which has been fighting for independence for the Basque territories for four decades, declared a ceasefire in March 2006 and had insisted that it still held despite killing two people with a bomb at Madrid airport in December.

The government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero started exploratory peace talks in mid-2006, but broke them off at the end of the year after the airport bomb.

At the time, ETA said it had not meant to kill anyone and was only seeking concessions in peace talks.

"ETA wishes to announce that it is abandoning its permanent ceasefire and has decided to act on all fronts in defense of Euskal Herria," the group said, using the Basque language name for the Basque Country.

Zapatero said the ceasefire had already been broken in December by ETA, which also called off an earlier truce in 1999.

"ETA's decision is absolutely the opposite of what Basque and Spanish society want: the road to peace," Zapatero told reporters. "Spanish society has shown over a long period that pain does not sap its strength, that suffering does not reduce its determination."

The ETA announcement, widely anticipated by state security services, could mean more attacks are imminent, analysts said.

The end of the ceasefire is bad news for Zapatero who defied criticism from opposition conservatives by opening exploratory peace talks with ETA. National elections are due next year.

ATTACKS LIKELY

"They will probably stage attacks, it's possible they might carry out assassinations," said Pello Salaburu, former rector of the Basque Country University, who added that he believed the group was doomed by falling levels of support.

"They don't understand how much people hate them," Salaburu said. "They live on another planet."

ETA has killed more than 800 people in four decades of armed struggle for independence.

Most Basques do not want to secede from Spain, polls show, and the Basque Country already enjoys considerable autonomy.

More than 700 arrests in Spain and France since 2000 seriously weakened the rebels, who also lost support after Islamist bombings in Madrid in 2004 increased public revulsion against terrorism, security services believe.

Even ETA's banned political party ally Batasuna, which was not allowed to take part in last month's regional elections, appeared to distance itself from the rebels.

"Breaking the ceasefire was exclusively the responsibility of ETA," Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi told a news conference in San Sebastian while blaming the Spanish government for the collapse of the peace process.

On the streets of one Basque town, Getxo, the reaction to ETA's move was one of dismay.

"We don't want to be with Spain, but we don't want to have anything to do with these brothers of ours, these sons of ours either," said Patxi Bengoetxea, a 70-year-old pensioner, referring to ETA.

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