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Saturday, September 19, 1998 Published at 06:52 GMT 07:52 UK


World: Europe

Aznar returns for 'urgent' ETA ceasefire talks

Government intends to see if Basque elections in October are incident free

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has cut short a visit to Peru for urgent consultations over the ceasefire by the armed Basque separatist movement ETA.


The BBC's Orla Guerin reports on the historic ceasefire announcement
The talks were welcomed by the opposition Socialist party which had criticised the government's cautious response to the ceasfire that came into effect on Friday.

On Thursday ETA issued a communique declaring a unilateral ceasefire, saying the Basque region had a unique opportunity to move towards independence from Spain.


[ image: Prime Minister Aznar: Escaped assassination attempt]
Prime Minister Aznar: Escaped assassination attempt
But the Spanish government expressed deep scepticism about the indefinite ceasefire and Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja said the government would not alter its policy before elections for the Basque autonomous region on 25th October.

Speaking before returning to Madrid, Mr Aznar, who survived an ETA assasination attempt in 1995, said there was no reason to believe that ETA's declaration would end the armed group's violent campaign.

"After 30 years of terrorist activity we cannot give ETA the benefit of the doubt," he said.


[ image:  ]
"There have been truces and negotiations before. If ETA has truly abandoned the path of violence it needs to prove it with actions and not words."

Initial opinion polls appeared to back the prime minister with 40% of those surveyed regarding ETA's move as a trick.

Nevertheless, ETA's ceasefire has generally been warmly welcomed in Spain by the church, the Socialist party and other Basque region parties.

In the past, the Spanish Government has insisted that before any negotiations could begin ETA would have to lay down its arms.

Demand for Basque independence


The BBC's Ian Simpson: "Spanish Government cannot afford to reject the chance"
In its eight-point communique, ETA said it would cease all armed attacks from Friday midnight.

But the organisation added that it will continue to resupply itself, maintain its structures, and defend itself if attacked.

ETA also reasserts its demand for independence for the Basque country, but suggests that it is willing to enter peace talks.


[ image:  ]
Mainstream political parties in Spain have been bitterly divided in recent weeks over how to resolve decades of separatist conflict in the Basque region.

There has been growing pressure from a broad range of groups for a peace process similar to initiatives which led to Northern Ireland's Good Friday agreement.

Our correspondent says ETA is understood to have been heavily influenced by the Northern Ireland peace process. Its political wing has been schooled by Sinn Fein on strategy for negotiation.

ETA has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in its 30-year fight for independence.

The organisation was still carrying out fatal attacks as recent as three months ago.

The latest casualty was a councillor from Spain's ruling Popular Party.



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Basque Congress for Peace

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