ETA calls for negotiations with Spain


The armed Basque separatist group ETA has backed negotiations with Spain in a statement published today.

The statement, published in the Basque newspaper Gara, followed remarks by Basque politicians that ETA may be eager to call a ceasefire.

ETA has killed more than 800 people since 1968 in a bombing and shooting campaign for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. Spain, the United States and the European Union consider it a terrorist group.

ETA said it backed a November peace proposal from Batasuna, the radical political party banned for refusing to denounce ETA violence which proposed "exclusively political and democratic" talks to "take the conflict off the streets".

ETA said it was "perfectly willing to take part in a process of those characteristics" and that it was "essential that the whole society has a chance to participate in such a process".

Defence Minister Jose Bono dismissed both ETA and Batasuna unless they reject violence, telling Cadena Serradio today: "You can't talk to someone with a gun in his hand ... Nobody sensible can sit down with these people."

Batasuna's Nov. 14 proposal was "the most solid political contribution yet proposed in the face of the conflict between the greater Basque Country and the states (of Spain and France)", ETA said.

The statement made no mention of Batasuna's call on Friday for direct peace talks between the government and ETA , nor did it mention the possibility of giving up arms.

The government also has rejected a plan by the Basque regional premier to grant the Basque provinces a "status of free association" with Spain that is very near to independence.

ETA 's statement claimed responsibility for a series of non-lethal bombings in recent months but denied it was responsible for a false alarm that forced the evacuation of Real Madrid's soccer stadium and the suspension of a match that had been taking place.