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Basque separatist group announces cease-fire

By Al Goodman, CNN
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ETA declares cease-fire
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The ETA announced a cease-fire on Sunday to various media
  • Spain's prime minister's office had no comment
  • ETA is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its long fight for independence
  • Previous cease-fire announcements have been broken

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- The Basque separatist group ETA released a cease-fire statement Sunday to various media, including the Basque newspaper Gara, where it typically releases information.

ETA has announced cease-fires before and broken them, notably the unilateral 2006 cease-fire that was announced as "permanent," only to be broken months later with a car bomb at Madrid's airport that killed two people.

In a statement published on the Gara website on Sunday, ETA --- which is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its long fight for Basque independence in northern Spain and southwest France -- calls on the Spanish government to "agree to the minimum democratic solutions necessary to start a democratic process."

Officials at Spain's Interior Ministry said the cease-fire announcement was being studied cautiously but that no senior officials were due to speak publicly about it, CNN affiliate CNN+ reported.

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The prime minister's office told CNN it had no comment.

The latest cease-fire announcement was not unexpected, following weeks of calls for a new peace process by some smaller leftist Basque political parties.

The cease-fire announcement also follows months of what is widely regarded as a successful police crackdown against ETA operatives in Spain and also in ETA's hideouts in neighboring France and Portugal.

Police have arrested many of ETA's suspected top operatives, as well as many ETA foot soliders, and seized bomb-making materials and weapons from hidden arms caches, virtually shutting off ETA attacks.

In its cease-fire announcement Sunday, ETA said that "months ago it decided not to carry out armed offensive actions," but made no mention of what it might consider a "defensive" action.

The announcement was accompanied an ETA video which showed three apparent ETA members seated at a table in front of an ETA banner and facing a camera. They wore white face hoods with eye holes but their mouths covered, black berets and black jerseys.

The person in the middle apeared to do all the speaking in the ancient Basque language -- not in Spanish -- and the voice seemed to be that of a woman.

ETA is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union for its campaign of car bombings and shootings.

The Spanish government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero began a peace process in 2006 during the last unilateral ETA cease-fire, but after ETA's airport bomb, the government called off negotiations.

Since then, officials of Zapatero's government have said they would accept only a definitive statement from ETA to end its armed fight, and to announce when and where it would lay down its arms forever, and not simply a cease-fire.

Only then would the government be willing to consider leniency for some of the more than 500 ETA prisoners in jail.

The Basque region in northern Spain already has considerable home-rule authority, with its own police, parliament, taxing power and control of health and education. But ETA rejects those as partial steps, and has fought for full independence.

ETA's goal is an independent Basque nation comprising the three-province Basque region and the neighboring Navarra region in Spain, along with three departments in southwest France that also have Basque roots. About three million people live in those areas now.

ETA's cease-fire statement called on the international community to get involved in the Basque peace process.

On Sunday, the leader of the Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland said he supported the cease-fire.

"Gerry Adams has welcomed ETA cease-fire announcement," the Sinn Fein party said on its Twitter page.