|Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, centre, was among those present at the conference [EPA]|
International negotiators have called on ETA, the armed Basque separatist group, to renounce violence and for the Spanish and French governments to engage in talks with the group if it does so.
The request, made after a conference on the conflict in the Spanish city of San Sebastien on Monday, falls short of the Spanish government’s demand that ETA be dissolved entirely.
“The government reiterates that what the terrorist group ETA should do is definitively abandon violence, that is it,” said Jose Blanco, a spokesman for the government.
ETA has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, and is blamed for the deaths of at least 829 people in its four-decade-long violent campaign for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.
“We have come to the Basque country today because we believe it is time to end, and it is possible to end, the last armed confrontation in Europe,” Bertie Ahern, a former Irish premier, said after the three-day conference, which was organised by Lokarri, a Basque citizens’ group.
Neither ETA nor the Spanish government participated in the conference.
Those present included former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Gerry Adams, president of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party and Gro Harlem Bruntland, the former Norwegian prime minister.
The attendees made several recommendations, including that ETA should make a public declaration of the “definitive cessation of all armed action”, the holding of talks between ETA and the Spanish and French governments, and for steps to be taken to allow for reconciliation, including the recognising and compensating of victims.
Conference members offered to form a committee to follow up on the recomendations.
An official from the Basque national PNV party told the AFP news agency on the sidelines of the conference that ETA had already decided in principle to give up violence for good.
“The final decision has been taken,” the official said. “It must say so this week.”
It is not prepared, however, to disband, the official said.
In January, ETA moved towards declaring a unilateral ceasefire, but the Spanish government pushed for it to do more.
“We expected a bit more from this international conference,” said Gorka Landaburu, editor of the Spanish weekly magazine Cambio 16, who was injured by a letter bomb sent by ETA in 2001.
“That it demand that ETA definitively stop all its armed activities, is normal […] but ETA is not going to announce its dissolution in the coming days, nor in the coming weeks.”
Pedro J Ramirez, the founder and director of El Mundo, a centre-right daily, dismissed the mediator’s recommendations as “a farce”.
The gathering was held ahead of a November 20 poll that is widely expected to be won by the conservative Popular Party, resulting in the defeat of the ruling Socialists.
Many Spanish politicians and much of the media have reacted sceptically to the suggestion that ETA could renounce violence for good, with some angry about international peace negotiators attempting to get involved.
“They don’t have a bloody clue what country they are in or what type of conflict has gone on,” said Esteban Gonzalez Pons, of the Popular Party.
Established during the rule of General Francisco Franco, ETA has been edging towards ending its armed struggle for some time, a process that has been hastened by Basque secessionists making gains in regional elections.
ETA has not launched an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009, and in September this year, it announced that 700 imprisoned members had agreed to a definitive end to violence.