Separatist ETA consolidates its ceasefire, seeks talks (UPDATE)
(previous news was posted at 15:41)
The armed Basque separatist group ETA on Monday consolidated its four-month ceasefire by making it "permanent, general" and "verifiable by the international community."
A communique published by the Basque newspaper Gara, ETA said it was making a "firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards an end to the armed confrontation" with Spain, DPA reported.
At the same time, however, ETA said the eventual peace process would have to deal with the possibility of Basque independence - a subject the Spanish government firmly refuses to discuss.
ETA said it agreed with the 2010 Brussels Declaration signed by a group of international figures, including several Nobel Peace Prize laureates and former Irish president Mary Robinson, which called for a permanent and verifiable truce as a step towards a Northern Ireland - style peace process.
ETA called on Basque "political and social actors" to reach agreements ensuring that the Basques could exercise a "right to decide" on "all political projects, including independence."
The group also urged Spain and France to "end all repressive measures" against it.
ETA's current ceasefire, which it declared on September 5, is its 11th since 1981.
Weakened by police and judicial crackdowns, ETA had come under increasing pressure from its political wing Batasuna and related groups to consolidate the truce as a first step towards definitively laying down arms.
Batasuna is hoping that a switch to a purely political strategy in the campaign for Basque independence will persuade Spain to lift a 2003 ban which is preventing it from contesting elections in the Basque region.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government, however, insists on an unconditional surrender by ETA.
"ETA will put a price to its dissolution, but we will not pay that," Minister for the Prime Minister's Office Ramon Jauregui said on Monday shortly before ETA released the communique.
ETA has killed about 850 people since 1968 in its campaign for a sovereign Basque state carved out of northern Spain and southern France. ETA is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and by the United States.