Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spain: ETA on a New Track ; A Third Government Inquiry Affirms the Basque Separatist Group's Truce Was Sincere

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spain: ETA on a New Track ; A Third Government Inquiry Affirms the Basque Separatist Group's Truce Was Sincere

Article excerpt

When arsonists destroyed Jose Antonio Mendive's family business last month, he did not hesitate to cast blame.

"It was terrorism, pure and simple," says the town councilman from the Navarra region. Many suspect supporters of Basque separatist group ETA were responsible.

But in the context of ETA's recent cease-fire, little is pure or simple. Since March 22, when the group declared an end to nearly 40 years of armed struggle for Basque independence, Spain has sought to determine whether the outlawed group's avowal of a "permanent" cease- fire was, in fact, sincere.

Several incidents of extortion and violence in April made many Spaniards, including opposition leaders in Parliament, skeptical. The Socialist administration, however, appears satisfied that ETA is on a new track, and is turning its attention to the next step: garnering support for opening peace talks with ETA through its banned political wing, Batasuna.

"We're seeing signs that suggest a new attitude," said Secretary of Communication Fernando Moraleda last Thursday, as the government announced that its third investigation of ETA's activities affirmed that the group was complying with the truce.

Mr. Moraleda's statement followed Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's most recent round of discussions with leaders of other parties, through which the prime minister is preparing to request - probably in June - that Parliament permit his government to openly negotiate with Batasuna.

At the moment, the chief obstacle to such negotiations is disagreement over Batasuna's legal status. Spain's 2003 Law of Parties, which banned political organizations that supported terrorism, made the Basque party illegal.

But ETA's cease-fire has opened a door for reviving Batasuna's legitimacy. "If everything continues as it is supposed to, it's inevitable that Batasuna will be a legal party again," says Juan Aviles, terrorism expert at Spain's Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia. "ETA is not going to give up its weapons for nothing; it's going to demand a concession."

Still, after years of deadlock between Batasuna and the government - especially under the administration of Jose Maria Aznar, Zapatero's conservative predecessor - over control of the Basque region, it will be difficult to restore the nationalist group to the fold of legitimate parties.

"It is one of the ironies - or pathologies - of these peace processes that a party denounced for years now becomes acceptable," says Ignacio Sanchez-Cuenca, a political scientist at Madrid's Complutense University. "But Batasuna has made some radical changes. It wasn't long ago it insisted only Basque nationalists had the right to decide the Basque country's future, yet now it recognizes it must include political forces it disagrees with."

Basque nationalists and their supporters believe the Spanish government's position on Batasuna must also change - and soon. …

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