Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1999 16:28:42 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: POLITICS-SPAIN: ETA Ends Cease-Fire, Splitting Basque Front
MADRID, Nov 29 (IPS)—The break-up of the Basque nationalist front is the first casualty after the ETA announcement that its unilateral cease-fire, in effect since September 16, 1998, will come to an end this Thursday.
Several initiatives materialised in Spain's Basque Country in response to the separatist group's announcement, including a silent demonstration scheduled for Wednesday in all Basque cities, organised by a local peace group and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The Basque daily ‘Gara’ published a communique Sunday in which ’Euskadi ta Alkartasuna’ (ETA—Basque Fatherland and Liberty) announced that, beginning December 3, they will have the power in their hands “to communicate with operative command units and tell them when to begin to carrying out their actions.”
ETA blames the Spanish government for continued repression against its members and blames the moderate Basque nationalist movement for not complying with elections for a constitutional and sovereign parliament in Euskal Herría (which covers the three provinces that form Spain's Basque Country, the autonomous community of Navarra, and the two French Basque provinces).
Javier Arzallus, president of the moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV, which leads the Basque Country's governing coalition), had an unequivocal reply: “ETA is lying.”
He asserted that the PNV and the other moderate nationalist party, Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), did not commit to convoking a constitutional assembly.
ETA, in turn, responded Monday by distributing a photocopy of the document that verifies the moderate parties' constitutional commitment, signed by EA and PNV leaders.
But discordant voices were heard from within the independent front linked to ETA, criticising the armed group's decision to suspend the truce.
Milagros Rubio, leader of one of the Eusko Herritarrok (EH) sectors (the electoral coalition closest to ETA), said Monday that the ETA announcement shatters everyone's illusions and is inconsistent with the organisation's stated goals.
Rubio also believes that requesting a constitutional assembly that includes all of Euskal Herria is “a complete fantasy.”
The EH coalition's maximum leader, Arnaldo Otegui distanced himself from ETA saying the announcement will not interfere with the institutional agreements signed by the coalition with the PNV and EA.
The pacts allowed Juan José Ibarretxe, of the PNV, to be designated president of the Basque autonomous government, and the nationalist parties to win control of the municipal and provincial governments.
Otegui, however, also had criticism for the PNV and EA. Though they had stated “we are all responsible for the end of the cease- fire,” he accused the two parties of lacking political will and of engaging in double-talk.
Basque president Ibarretxe, for his part, called the ETA decision “a step backwards,” though he asserted that “it will not be like the past, because a society that has known what it is like to live in peace will never grow re-accustomed to violence.”
Ibarretxe announced he will make “discreet and immediate” contacts with all political parties in the region and with the national government of centre-rightist José Mar¡a Aznar.
Aznar, according to his press office, has not yet decided if he will meet with Ibarretxe, but does plan on talking with Joaquín Almunia, secretary general of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and Julio Anguita, leader of the United Left coalition (centred on the Communist Party).
The government's stance was clarified by Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja: “ETA does not want peace, it wants independence,” something the Executive branch and the majority parties are not willing to tolerate.
Aznar indicated that “ETA has made the mistake once again of not listening to society's unanimous clamour for peace.”
The business community has also joined the call. José Guillermo Zublia, president of the Basque Business Confederation, warned that a return to violence would devastate the region's economic advances of the last year.
Tourism was the economic sector that grew the most, but the entire Basque economy, emphasised Zublia, saw a turn-around because of the extended period without violence.
After ETA announced its unilateral cease-fire in 1998, it sent a delegation to Geneva to meet with a group sent by Aznar. A second meeting was never finalised, however, because ETA refused to participate, alleging that the government had violated promises of confidentiality.
According to minister Mayor Oreja, ETA never intended to advance toward a definitive peace, it just wanted to gain time to regroup and go back to its attacks.
He pointed out that the organisation had stolen 8,000 kg of explosives in France and automobiles in Spain, and continued to coerce Basque business owners into paying a monthly quota, what ETA called “the revolutionary tax.”
The ETA announcement about ending the cease-fire produced two types of reactions. On one side, the potential victims of ETA attacks once again are reinforcing the security measures and precautions they had lost the habit of using.
On the other, supporters of peace in the region are doubling their efforts. Among them, the Catholic Episcopal Conference offered Monday, according to its spokesman José Asenjo, to mediate in the conflict, doing everything possible to find a peaceful solution and prevent attacks.