Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has announced that his government is to go ahead with peace talks with the Basque separatist group ETA. But he’s insisting there won’t be peace at any price. Without giving details of where or when talks would take place, he warned the process would be “long and difficult”. Political questions, he said, could only be resolved through what he called “the legitimate representatives of the people’s will”.
The democratic government would not pay a political price for peace, he added. The decision to go ahead with negotiations gives implicit government backing to a ceasefire announced by ETA in March. For almost 40 years the group has waged an armed campaign for Basque independence, which has claimed more than 800 lives.
Today’s announcement has been fiercely criticised by Spain’s conservative opposition. It broke off cooperation with the government this month when Socialist officials said they would meet with ETA’s banned political wing, Batasuna. Conservative leader Mariano Rajoy said his Popular Party would not support the process unless the government guarantees the Spanish people it won’t negotiate with Batasuna.
“Batasuna is ETA,” Rajoy said. “By talking politics with Batasuna, you’re talking politics with ETA.” Analysts say continued resistance by the Popular Party could make it harder for the government to get public support for any eventual deal. Earlier this month hundreds of thousands rallied in Madrid to protest against the peace talks. However recent surveys suggest a majority of Spaniards are behind the process.
The country’s interior minister is expected to give a progress report on the negotiations at the end of September.