Spain rules out talks with Basque separatists as Eta lays down its arms

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Spain has ruled out talks with the Basque separatist group Eta, even as it welcomed an end to four decades of bombings and shootings as the group announced it was laying down its arms.

In a historic statement, Eta announced it was ceasing its bloody 43-year campaign for an independent Basque state in territory straddling northern Spain and south-west France, but the group stopped short of declaring defeat and called on Spain and France to open talks on the conflict.

But Spain’s defence minister Carme Chacon told Spanish National TV, “There is nothing to negotiate with Eta,” adding that Eta had not achieved any of its aims and that the decades “of pain and crime have not served them at all”. It was the first clear signal from the government that there would be no deals made.

Mr Chacon said this was the “beginning of an end that has to be managed intelligently”.

Eta’s decision was welcomed by Spanish politicians across the board, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero saying it was a victory for democracy.

Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party and the person tipped to form the next government following a national election November 20, also hailed it as a major development, but warned that Spain would only be fully at ease when Eta disbanded.

Eta, which killed more than 800 people in its campaign, made the announcement in a video of three its members wearing trademark Basque berets and white cloth masks with slits for their eyes. At the end of the clip, they defiantly raised their fists in the air demanding a separate Basque nation.

Spain’s leading security official paid homage to the security forces who helped bring about Eta’s change of heart, but he said they would continue with their work. “We have ended a part of our task,” said interior minister Antonio Camacho. “The most complicated part remains: guaranteeing, by means of strict adherence to our laws, that never again should a generation of Spaniards have to bear the burden of a barbarity that has dragged on our progress and compromised our future.”