30 March 2006 Edition

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ETA ceasefire: Reaction and prospects for progress

Batasuna rally in support of a real peace process

Batasuna rally in support of a real peace process

il Guard. Equally Zapatero will have negative elements within his own party whose support for their leader will be determined more by the impact of any Popular Party campaign on public opinion than a desire for peace.

Within Basque society, popular support for a serious conflict resolution process will give all parties a substantial degree of space from which to operate. However, Zapatero must demonstrate quickly that a peace process means real change. The unbanning of Batasuna is essential, as is the ending of the political trials against left nationalist organisations and individuals. How Zapatero responds to the continued existence of 700 political prisoners, the ongoing denial of their human and legal rights and their dispersal in jails throughout the Spanish state will be one of the key litmus tests for Basque public opinion.

However, at the centre of the process must be a process of open-ended dialogue involving all sections of Basque society, in which they are given the freedom and opportunity to democratically decide their own future. The Spanish government must not only allow all parties to attend the negotiations and all options to be on the table, but they must also accept that in the end, it is the Basques who must decide, peacefully, and democratically, their own future. This will be the biggest political challenge for all of the key players in the process, and a test of their commitment to democracy and peace.

All sides appear to understand that the process ahead will be long, slow and fraught with difficulties. However, there continues to be optimism among the key protagonists and an understanding of the need for both progress and caution. Despite the obvious risks, particularly for Basque nationalists, the first week of the new born Basque peace process has clearly been a good one.

indow of hope that nobody should close." The President is expected to convene some form of multi party talks involving all the Basque and Spanish parties before the autumn.

These positive signals are echoed by a broad range of political voices across Europe and the world, including European Parliament President Josep Borrell, EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana, the US State Department and the offices of both Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Labour Party MEP Prionsias de Rossa also welcomed the announcement.

However there have been some dissenting voices, primarily from the Spanish right. Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, described the ceasefire as a "pause‚ not a renunciation"‚ and cast doubt on ETA's sincerity. His views were shared by the Association of the Victims of Terrorism (AVT), a pressure group representing families of those killed by ETA, and viewed as sharingn the judicial system and police force close to the Popular Party determined to play a negative role. The ongoing trial against Batasuna, their political leaders and other organisations and individuals from the left nationalist constituency indicates just one of the difficulties the process will face. The announcement, on Monday of this week, that a number of long serving Basque political prisoners will have to serve their sentences concurrently, resulting in release dates more then 10 years away, casts a negative shadow on an otherwise positive political landscape.

The ability of the Popular Party to mobilise public support against the peace process through the AVT and a sympathetic media may be limited at the outset, as the shift in Rajoy's position indicates. However after the initial period passes, the PP's willingness to actively undermine progress should not be underestimated. Likewise with their supporters within the National Court, Spanish Army and Civ which they are given the freedom and opportunity to democratically decide their own future. The Spanish government must not only allow all parties to attend the negotiations and all options to be on the table, but they must also accept that in the end, it is the Basques who must decide, peacefully, and democratically, their own future. This will be the biggest political challenge for all of the key players in the process, and a test of their commitment to democracy and peace.

All sides appear to understand that the process ahead will be long, slow and fraught with difficulties. However, there continues to be optimism among the key protagonists and an understanding of the need for both progress and caution. Despite the obvious risks, particularly for Basque nationalists, the first week of the new born Basque peace process has clearly been a good one.


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