Is Basque Terrorism Over?

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The Basque terrorist movement ETA on Wednesday announced a "permanent ceasefire," to go into effect on Friday, after more than 30 years of violence and bloodshed. Nearly 900 people have been killed, many more maimed and hundreds have been blackmailed by the organization; those who failed to pay protection money often saw their businesses bombed or torched or were even kidnapped and held hostage until their families paid large ransom payments. ETA has long demanded independence from Spain for the Basques, who live in the border area between France and Spain. The more militant of its members call for the integration of the French Basque provinces into an independent Basque Country.

This is not the first time that ETA has declared a truce, but it is the first time that it has used the word "permanent." But will it be? Opinion in Spain is divided.

Journalist Gorka Landáburu, who was himself maimed by an ETA parcel bomb, which cost him an eye and part of one hand, welcomed the news. "I believe this is a genuine call for peace," he said. "It is a permanent ceasefire and not merely a truce. The path ahead will be complicated and difficult. But I can't see them turning back now."

Prime minister José Luís Lopez Zapatero, who had pledged himself to working for a Basque peace process when he took office two years ago, also welcomed the news but called for patience, warning that they were embarking on a "long, difficult and arduous process." Yet the conservative Popular Party greeted the announcement with skepticism. "It is a pause, not a renunciation [of terrorism]," declared PP's leader, Mariano Rajoy, who pointed out that ETA has yet to agree to lay down its arms.

ETA has lost considerable support among the Basque people in recent years and the organization has been seriously weakened by close cooperation between the French and Spanish security forces, who have arrested many of its leaders and seized quantities of arms, explosives and ammunition as well as computer files with valuable information on the members and their activities. Although there has been a spate of bombings in recent months, most were preceded by warnings, and while they caused considerable damage to property, there have been no deaths since 2003.

Pau Ríos of the Basque peace movement Alkarri described the wording of the communique as "a very important step forward....It is the best we could have hoped for from ETA." He said it would have been unrealistic to expect the group to announce its was laying down its arms at this time "But the word 'permanent' is particularly significant as it has very strong connotations in the Basque language," he said.