The government, opposition, and media reacted in unison with deep scepticism to Sunday’s video declaration of a ceasefire Sunday in the ETA campaign, blamed for the deaths of 829 people over 42 years.
Three ETA members in berets and yellow hoods, sitting at a table against the background of ETA’s symbol of a snake curling around an axe, announced the halt to attacks in a video released Sunday.
In the centre of the trio, a woman fighter said ETA had decided some months ago to stop offensive violent actions.
But she did not say if the ceasefire was permanent or temporary, provoking scorn among Spanish politicians who recalled that ETA abandoned a “permanent ceasefire” in 2006 and bombed the car park of Madrid’s airport in December of that year, killing two people.
“ETA has to renounce violence completely, forever,” said Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the most senior member of the government to react to the ETA declaration.
The ETA statement failed to meet the demands of the Spanish government and even ETA’s own outlawed political wing Batasuna of “a definitive and unconditional abandonment of armed struggle,” he told the Spanish public television station TVE.
“We are not going to change a dot or a comma in our antiterrorist policy. What we want is for ETA to renounce violence, so long as it does not break with violence it will not be admitted into institutions.”
Batasuna, declared illegal since 2003 because of its ties with ETA, wants to return to politics in time to take part with a new ally in Basque and northern Navarra municipal elections in 2011.
It vowed in February only to use non-violent means and in past days has called on ETA to do the same.
The Spanish government’s reaction dovetailed with the judgement of the opposition Popular Party which demanded Sunday nothing less than permanent disarmament and the dissolution of ETA.
The Spanish press joined in the condemnation of ETA’s failure to unequivocally renounce violence, saying its fighters were also desperate to buy time and reorganize after a police crackdown.
Listed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, ETA has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009, and it has been battered by a series of arrests including several of its overall leaders.
Since the start of this year Spanish police working with other forces including in France have arrested 68 suspected ETA members.
“If the separatist organisation chose this ambiguous and limited formulation at this moment, it is without a doubt because it needs to gain time, both because of the police pressure it faced as well as because of the political price violence entails,” centre-right daily El Mundo wrote.
The newspaper called ETA’s declaration a “tactical pseudo-ceasefire” and it recalled that the outfit took advantage of its two previous ceasefires to “reorganize and rearm”.
Left-wing daily Publico agreed.
“It is possible that these steps could lead further. Hopefully. But for now ETA is trying to save enough time with a statement that gives the bare minimum to allow Batasuna to make new political movements,” the paper said.
ETA killed two police officers in a bombing in Majorca on July 30, 2009, its last deadly attack in Spain.