French police arrested suspected ETA members earlier in the month [Reuters]

Spain's armed Basque secessionist movement ETA has said it is willing to allow international observers to verify a ceasefire it declared earlier this year.

A report in the Basque newspaper Gara on Sunday said that the group was "ready to accept an informal mechanism for verification".

An ETA statement carried by the paper said that there were now two camps, that "of those who want to put in place a scenario of freedom", and that of "those who want to maintain force and stalemate".

ETA declared a ceasefire on January 10, after more than 40 years of bloodshed, but the move was not accepted by the Spanish government.

Many in Spain view ETA's ceasefire announcement as part of an attempt to get members of its banned political wing Batasuna included on electoral lists for local and regional elections due in May and the government was dismissive of ETA's latest overtures.

Ramon Jauregui, a spokesman for the Spanish government, said that he was not sure what an "informal verification" meant.

Last week Spain's top court rejected an application by Sortu, a new Basque pro-independence group, to form a political party so that it can stand in local elections in May.

The Spanish government had asked the court to bar the group from electoral lists in municipal elections to be held in the Northern Basque country, arguing that it is a simple "extension" of Batasuna.

Earlier in March, French police arrested four men in northern France on suspicion they were active ETA members, seizing arms, documents in the Basque language and computers in a raid.

ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.

Source: Agencies