Peace hopes fade as Eta signals ceasefire threat

The prospect of imminent progress in efforts to end decades of separatist violence in Spain’s Basque region dimmed on Friday after the armed separatist group Eta said the peace process was in crisis and issued a veiled threat to break a five-month ceasefire.

In a statement sent to the Basque nationalist newspaper Gara, Eta accused the government of dragging its feet and complained of government repression, threatening to “respond” if “attacks against the Basque country” continued.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the socialist prime minister, announced peace talks with Eta in June but his government has continued to clamp down on extortion by the armed group and prohibit rallies by the group’s outlawed political wing, Batasuna.

Political activists and analysts in the Basque country on Friday said Eta was hardening its stance ahead of talks with the government, expected to begin in the next few weeks. Eta wants to link disarmament to a political solution for Euskal Herria, the Basque-speaking region that straddles the Spanish-French border.

Florencio Domínguez, a political analyst, said: “Eta wants to make very clear that for them this process is about changing the political status of the Basque country.”

Mr Zapatero has said Eta talks will be limited to disarming the group, which has killed 800 people in the past 40 years. The government insists Batasuna renounce violence in order to take part in all-party talks on the future of the Basque country.

Joseba Arregi, a former member of the regional government and target of Eta threats, said: “I think Eta believed, or were allowed [by some socialist representatives] to believe, that talks would have a political dimension. But that cannot be.”

The Basque socialist party said on Friday: “Eta is not going to lead the political debate over Euskadi...because politics is the preserve of parties and institutions.”

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