End of Eta in sight - Zapatero


Separatist group Eta, which has killed more than 850 people in its battle for an independent Basque homeland, will never return to its most deadly strength, Spain's prime minister said today.

Prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was cautious about calling the end of the separatist group, which declared a permanent ceasefire last month, but said he considered it to be in the last leg of its five-decade history.

"We are going to witness the end of Eta, it is in its final phase," Mr Zapatero said in an interview.

Most analysts think the group is weaker than at any time in its history after repeated arrests of its leadership and members by Spanish and French police.

Asked whether he saw a chance to make history by ending the Basque conflict, Mr Zapatero warned Eta splinter groups could still flare up after the organisation broke ceasefires but said it lacked its previous strength.

"(The group) we have known as Eta won't come back ever, I mean an organisation with a will to kill and with a strong capacity to hurt," he said.

The Spanish government has rejected Eta's ceasefire, saying it does not go far enough, and has also been guarded about the rejection of violence this month by the group's former political wing Batasuna.

Eta was founded under the repressive dictatorship of Francisco Franco more than 50 years, when regional languages like Basque were banned, and waged a campaign of bombings and shootings.

But support for them in the Basque Country has waned as the region won more autonomy following the restoration of democracy after Franco's death in 1975 and people turned against the continued use of violence.