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A1.18  Spain to Negotiate with Basque Separatists  

The following article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 30, 2006 written by Tracy Wilkinson, Times staff writer and is reproduced here in case future access to it is changed. Neither NABO or the Basque Government is responsible for the following content. For more information, &/or to get on our email list, contact us at info@nabasque.org  

A few years ago this was not even a remote possibility, but with with ETAs declaratino of a cease-fire, Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero announced that he would open peace talks with the outlawed Basque organization of ETA. 

n a politically risky move aimed at ending Europe's last armed conflict, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced Thursday that he would open peace talks with ETA, the outlawed Basque guerrilla organization.

The talks follow ETA's declaration in March of a "permanent" cease-fire in the group's four-decade fight for independence. Together, the developments represent what many here believe to be the best chance in years for a lasting peace.

Zapatero immediately faced angry criticism from victims organizations and Spain's main opposition party.

Why does the BBC call Eta "Basque separatists" and not terrorists?  

According to Matt Holder of the BBC (January 6, 2005), "it's a question that gets asked every time the group stages another attack in its campaign to form an independent Basque homeland.  And the BBC's policy not to call Eta (short for Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna) terrorists often prompts angry calls and letters from viewers and listeners in the UK and abroad. After all, if the Spanish government refers to them as a "terrorist group", why shouldn't the BBC?

Some viewers claim that by not using the terrorist tag, and using separatist instead, it gives legitimacy to the group's cause. Others claim terrorism is the only way to adequately describe a bloody campaign for independence that has led to more than 800 deaths over the last 30 years.

"'Basque separatist' is a factual explanation of the group and its goals"

The use of language in reporting atrocities is something to which the BBC gives a great deal of thought. It avoids labels wherever it can. And its credibility is severely undermined if international audiences think they can detect a bias for or against any of those involved. As part of the BBC's duty to be impartial, independent and accurate, it tries to use neutral and factual language wherever possible.  The words terrorist and terrorism when applied to a specific group are subjective and can carry a sense of condemnation.

General use of the words terror and terrorism are not banned, it's simply a case of common sense how and when they are used.  For instance, they can be used in a non-specific context as well as in direct quotes.   An on-screen graphic on News 24 or a headline on the News website might read "Airlines on terror alert" or "Police conference on terrorism".  And world leaders might condemn specific groups as terrorists but if the BBC carries their quotes, it will clearly attribute those remarks.

Is ETA a group of separatists, militants, terrorists, freedom fighters, murderers or what?

"The process is going to be long, hard and difficult," the prime minister said as he announced the talks in Madrid. He offered few details but promised that the government would not make major political concessions to ETA, which many Spaniards consider a terrorist group.

The talks are expected to focus on government demands that ETA fighters disarm and the group's call for Basque prisoners to be moved to jails closer to their hometowns. The Basque separatists also want a voice in determining the future of their region, but Zapatero seemed to rule that out.

The dialogue probably will take place in closed meetings in a European country other than Spain. Zapatero said political parties could expect a progress report in late September.

More than 2 million Basques live in a small wedge of northern Spain near the border with France, sharing a common ethnic background, customs and language. ETA has been fighting for an independent Basque country in its traditional homeland in northern Spain and southern France since the waning years of Gen. Francisco Franco's dictatorship, which ended in 1975.

More than 800 people have been killed in ETA attacks, including police officers, politicians and journalists, and thousands more injured. The violence often reached other parts of Spain, including Madrid.

Putting a definitive end to the conflict would be a major victory for Zapatero, whose Socialist government has confronted Islamist terrorism and tough resistance from the right-wing Popular Party. If the talks fail, the government could fall, and Basque nationalists, invested now in the peace process, might be tempted to make more radical demands.

An organization representing families of ETA victims condemned the government's decision to negotiate, accusing Zapatero of "killing the memory" of the dead. The group held an overnight vigil Thursday in Madrid to protest the possibility of talks and attempted to deliver to parliament a wreath of white carnations stained with red paint.

"It is monstrous that an elected, legal government agreed to dialogue with a criminal band," said Vidal de Nicolas, a poet in Bilbao and former head of an anti-nationalist Basque organization. "It is as if the jewelers were talking with the jewelry-store robbers."

Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy, head of the Popular Party, said in Madrid that his group would not support the government's plans. Talking with terrorists, he said, is unacceptable.  Polls, however, show general support among Spaniards for negotiating an end to the conflict, even if it means sitting down with guerrilla commanders.

Back in March ETA declared a permanent cease-fire to its four-decades long battle against the Spanish state.  For more about ETAs cease-fire announcement, click on A1.2  ETA announces cease fire

ETA which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna in the Basque language, or Basque Homeland and Freedom declared cease-fires in 1989 and 1998, but negotiations that followed collapsed.

ETA has not killed anyone in three years, although it continued to set off minor bombs and demand protection money from businesses. Large-scale police operations in Spain and France have severely cut into the group's ability to carry out attacks.

In addition, public outrage over train bombings by Islamist militants on March 11, 2004, forced some ETA leaders to rethink their strategy.

Txema Montero, an attorney in Bilbao who served as an advisor to ETA in the 1989 talks but broke with the group over its insistence on armed struggle, said the moment was right for dialogue. He said Zapatero probably could win over his opponents because of the public's general fatigue with violence.

The separatists are "not changing because they've decided they love democracy. They still don't understand democracy the way you and I do, but they did reach the conclusion that things were not working out for them," Montero said. "It's not love but self-interest. We have to try to work with that."

The negotiations with ETA will be accompanied by political talks involving all Basque parties, including ETA's outlawed political wing, Batasuna. These separate talks are aimed at discussing the region's future status.

A number of Basque groups lauded the Spanish government's decision, as did officials of the European Union and France, where Basques also claim a homeland.

Batasuna official Pernando Barrena said the move commits Zapatero to a "respect for the decisions taken by the Basque people." The regional Basque government praised the opening of talks as "positive" and pledged its support.

 Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took a huge political risk by agreeing to engage ETA directly in talks because a good many Spanish voices are completely opposed to negotiations with an organization they consider to be killers.

The Basque Country already enjoys considerable autonomy. The area has its own parliament, police force, schools and taxation powers. But some Basques want more, such as the ability to enter into international trade agreements.

Zapatero's government has been more receptive to expanded regional autonomy, and conservative opponents are afraid the Socialists will give away too much.

Last week, the region of Catalonia approved a referendum that granted itself greater autonomy; opposition leader Rajoy complained that it was the beginning of the end of Spain.

SOURCE:  http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-basques30jun30,0,4386753,print.story?coll=la-home-world