Basque group ETA ponders new cease-fire

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

MADRID, Spain -- The Basque separatist group ETA may call a unilateral cease-fire in its campaign of violence, a founder and other Basque sources said, in an effort to win political concessions from the newly elected Socialists due to take power next month.

Julen Madariaga, a founding member of ETA in southern France, said that "I have the impression that in a very short time -- in coming days, or coming weeks -- that ETA will declare a cease-fire."

Within the month, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his Socialists are to take over from the conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who cracked down on ETA.

"ETA always has known how to take advantage of these occasions. ... It's very weak and needs a strategic truce," said Kepa Aulestia, a Basque writer who focuses on ETA issues in El Correo and La Vanguardia newspapers.

ETA issued a statement Sunday proposing dialogue with the Socialists, but Zapatero responded the following day with these point-blank words: "The only communique I await from ETA, as do the vast majority of Spaniards, is one in which it abandons violence."

Aznar's government had succeeded in weakening ETA, but has not been able to end the separatist group's violence, which has killed more than 800 people since the late 1960s.

ETA demands independence for the three Basque country provinces and part of neighboring Navarra in northern Spain, and three other areas in southwest France.

The Aznar government originally blamed ETA for the March 11 railway bombings in Madrid, which killed 202 people. But investigators are now focusing on an Islamic group with alleged ties to al-Qaida.

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