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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 18:04 GMT
ETA's bloody record
Map showing  territory claimed by ETA
By Spanish Affairs specialist Jo Episcopo

For the last three decades the armed organisation ETA has waged a bloody campaign for independence for the seven regions in northern Spain and southwestern France that Basque separatists claim as their own.

Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA), whose name stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom, first emerged in the 1960s as a student resistance movement bitterly opposed to General Franco's repressive military dictatorship.

Under Franco the Basque language was banned, their distinctive culture suppressed, and intellectuals imprisoned and tortured for their political and cultural beliefs.

Franco era
The Basque country saw some of the fiercest resistance to Franco
The death of Franco in 1975 changed all that, and the transition to democracy brought the region of two million people home rule.

But despite the fact that Spain's Basque country today enjoys more autonomy than any other - it has its own parliament, police force, controls education and collects its own taxes - ETA and its hardline supporters remain determined to fight for full independence.

That fight has led to some 800 deaths over the last 30 years, many of them members of the Guardia Civil, Spain's national police force, and both local and national politicians who are opposed to ETA's separatist demands.

Terror tactics

ETA has successfully mobilised a large section of young people in the Basque country.

No-one knows just how big the covert organisation is but the Spanish authorities estimate those active in ETA, fully paid up members who are trained to kill and who work in cells of around four people, could number as few as 30.

Yet despite this seemingly low figure it is the group's surrounding support and tactics of kidnapping and extortion to fund its armed struggle which enable it to so effectively terrorise both the Basque and Spanish communities.

ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna, acts as a vociferous and powerful mouthpiece for the armed group.

In addition ETA has successfully mobilised a large section of young people in the Basque country, known as Jarrai.

These youths regularly firebomb and sabotage symbols of the Spanish state, creating an ongoing undercurrent of tension within the Basque country that is disproportionate to the support ETA actually has.

Support lessening

Increasingly there is less and less backing for ETA and its extremist followers. This is not only because of the gains made in recent years by moderate Basque nationalists, but also because there is a growing feeling that ETA is desperately out of touch with public opinion.

car on fire
Politicians and security forces became ETA's main targets
In July 1997 ETA kidnapped a 29-year-old local councillor for the ruling Popular Party in the Basque region, Miguel Angel Blanco. ETA demanded that, as a prerequisite for his release, its some 460 prisoners who are held in jails all over Spain be returned to the Basque region. It was an impossible demand.

Blanco was found shot twice in the head, he died in hospital twelve hours later.

The horror of the young councillor's death marked a turning point in ETA's struggle. Over a period of four days more than six million people across Spain took to the streets to demand an end to ETA's bloody violence.

The massive public mobilisation was likened to the marches for democracy that took place towards the end of Franco's regime, and in an unprecedented move some of ETA's own supporters publicly condemned the killing.

The Spanish government finds itself pressured by a tiny but violent minority.

The Basque conflict has many parallels with the situation in Northern Ireland and many believe the success of the peace process there was behind ETA's decision to call an indefinite ceasefire in September 1998.

That ceasefire was officially ended in December 1999 after the government refused to discuss ETA's demands for Basque independence.

The Spanish government had always maintained it would never consider entering talks with the armed group unless it renounced violence. And with the return to car bomb attacks the optimism that followed the ceasefire has now gone and both sides blame the other for its failure.

ETA argues that neither the Spanish nor the French government have shown the political will to resolve the conflict - and in one of the most divisive issues - its prisoners remain scattered all over the country.

The Spanish government meanwhile finds itself pressured by a tiny but violent minority which refuses to give up the bomb and the bullet to achieve its aims, despite the overwhelming desire of the Basque and Spanish public for the futile violence to end.

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