- Associated Press - Sunday, September 26, 2010

MADRID (AP) — The Basque separatist group ETA reportedly says it is willing to declare a permanent cease-fire, verified by international observers, in a bid to settle the troubled region’s long-running conflict with the Spanish government.

The group did not specify whether it would allow observers to oversee the destruction of its stockpile of weapons — the only absolute way of guaranteeing a cessation of violence — but hinted it was prepared to go beyond a mere declaration of a cease-fire.

It said it would act “if the conditions for such moves are created,” suggesting vague conditions about prison terms imposed on its jailed members and other “civil and political rights” issues.

ETA said the Spanish government should, “in general, ease all the pressure, interference and violence” on Basques.

No one was available to comment at the Spanish Interior Ministry, and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not refer to ETA’s interview at a political rally on Sunday.

Two unidentified and masked ETA members said in an interview published in the Basque newspaper Gara on Sunday that the violent, armed group was prepared to abide by the Brussels Declaration, a document issued in March by a group including four Nobel peace laureates. ETA often uses Gara as a mouthpiece.

The Brussels document calls for impartial verification of any cease-fire adopted by ETA.

The interview quoted the ETA members as saying that “ETA is willing to take that step, and also to go further, if the conditions for such moves are created.”

Three weeks ago, ETA announced the 11th cease-fire in its 40-year violent campaign for an independent homeland, but it did not mention the word “permanent,” nor did it say it would be prepared to destroy its stockpile of arms.

Basque pro-independence political parties and splinter groups called on the ETA in a statement released late Saturday to declare a permanent, unilateral and verifiable cease-fire leading to “dialogue and negotiation in all fields” under the “Mitchell Principles.”

U.S. Sen. George Mitchell mediated a peace process that led to the Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland, an agreement that included eyewitness verification of the destruction of the IRA’s weapons.

Earlier this month, the ETA also came under pressure to declare a verifiable cease-fire from pro-independence parties Batasuna and Eusko Alkartasuna. It also has been pressed for a change in strategy by some members currently serving prison terms for violent acts.

Spain’s government repeatedly has said progress can be made only when the ETA renounces violence for good. It has rejected the latest cease-fire announcements as a gambit to buy time, regroup and rearm.

ETA’s last deadly attack was a July 2009 car bomb that killed two policemen on the island of Mallorca. The group is considered a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the United States.

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