Spain's separatist ETA offers ceasefire, but the government vows to keep the pressure on

Spain's Basque separatist ETA offered a ceasefire, but the Spanish government dismissed the offer, demanding the group lay down its arms as a precondition for peace talks.

A screengrab from a video released by Basque separatist group ETA on Sunday shows masked members of the group as they declare a ceasefire. According to the video and other reports, the rebels have decided to no longer carry out armed attacks.

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A senior Spanish official Monday dismissed a ceasefire announced by Basque separatist group ETA as “insufficient,” saying it does not meet the government’s threshold for dialogue with the group.

Government officials and analysts say the ETA’s ceasefire is a result of the pressure generated by a recent police crackdown that has netted the group’s top leader and extended into France and Portugal. But the government statement today dimmed hopes that an end to the ETA's violent separatist campaign is around the corner.

The ETA, which has sought an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France for about 50 years, released a video Sunday that claimed the group had decided to enact a ceasefire months ago. In the video, broadcast by the BBC, three masked members sit in front of an ETA flag while one of them says the group will end armed actions. The statement defended the group’s use of violence but said the ETA now wants to find a democratic solution to the conflict and is seeking talks with the Spanish government. The group has killed more than 850 people since beginning its campaign of car bombings and shootings, and the US and the EU regard it as a terrorist organization.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba quickly put the idea of dialogue to rest on Spanish television Sunday. CNN reports that the Minister said the ETA statement fell short of the government's preconditions for talks. The government demands the ETA decommission all weapons and permanently renounce violence as a first step. .

The government has been burned by ETA ceasefires in the past – the group declared a permanent ceasefire in 2006 and the government entered talks that ended when the ETA detonated a car bomb at the Madrid airport, killing two people. Since then, the group has detonated a bomb on the island of Majorca in July 2009 and was suspected in a car bomb attack in Madrid the day before. A French policeman was killed by ETA members near Paris in March.

An editorial in The Daily Telegraph argues that the ETA’s announcement shows the success of the police crackdown. “The positive shine to put on yesterday's announcement of a ceasefire by ETA is that the Basque terrorist organisation is being forced back to the negotiating table by effective policing,” the Telegraph wrote.

The group’s leader was arrested in northern France in February and its suspected military leader was apprehended in May, also in France. Reuters reports that 62 ETA members were arrested in Spain, France, and other countries in the first six months of 2010.

Police also uncovered a bomb-making lab this year and “dismantled” the new bases the group was attempting to establish in Portugal due to police pressure in Spain, reports The Guardian. The paper quotes ETA expert Florencio Domínguez, who wrote in La Vanguardia newspaper: "The statement aims to give political meaning to a strategic rest decreed by Eta's leaders six months ago in order to reorganise internally to cope with police pressure."

The ceasefire statement is also seen as a response to the urging of a political party connected to the ETA, reports the Guardian. The Batasuna party, banned because of its association with the ETA, had been calling for a ceasefire so the party can regain legal recognition

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