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Spain's ETA promises cease-fire but many don't believe them

Spain's Basque separatist ETA has promised a cease-fire. But it comes with conditions and the government appears to have rejected the offer.

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But Mr. Elia warns there are political risks, too. “The more the government gives hope that a negotiation is possible, the longer ETA will feel it can accomplish its political objectives and the longer terrorism will continue.”

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The ETA is trying to buy itself time, says Mr. Zallo, the former militant. But he says that's not necessarily to relaunch armed struggle, as most in Spain believe. “ETA knows that its statement today is insufficient to open a peace negotiation. It seems more like they were forced into the decision internally by Batasuna.”

The group has been moving toward Monday’s announcement for at least a year. The ETA, which has killed more than 825 people in 51 years of fighting for the independence of two Spanish regions and a sliver of southern France it considers the Basque fatherland, has been battered by police action throughout the decade.

Waning influence

Polls and growing Basque support for integration with the rest of Spain show that ETA’s relevance is waning. The group's Batasuna political wing was outlawed in 2003. With municipal elections coming up in May, Batasuna is desperate to participate or risk withering away completely.

The government agrees. Within ETA, “there are expectations related to participating in politics. Batasuna has two options to return to political life. Either ETA gives up for good, and it’s clear we are not there yet, or Batasuna breaks its relations with ETA, which hasn’t happened either,” said Rubalcaba.

The government has no incentive to negotiate because it’s winning militarily and Spaniards overwhelmingly oppose making any concessions to ETA, which has broken cease-fire promises in the past.

Pressure from Nobel laureates, political wing

Last spring Batasuna began pressuring its militant core to declare a cease-fire, along with a group of international mediators that included four Nobel peace laureates. Militants finally declared a truce in September.

Batasuna has grown more assertive in standing up to its militant cousins, especially after the group unilaterally broke a truce declared to negotiate peace with the government by bombing the parking lot of Madrid’s newly opened airport terminal in December 2006. Two people were killed then. Then, Batasuna was broadly condemned by a Basque society tired of violence.

If Batasuna makes a full break from ETA, it won't be the first time a political activists have abandoned the armed wing. In 2001, ETA associates broke with the group to create of Basque independence party that condemns violence.

“If you ask me whether this is the end, no. If you ask me whether this is what Spanish society expects, definitively not," Rubalcaba said.

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