Basque separatists have asked France to join in seeking a permanent settlement in the region. In an open letter to President Jacques Chirac, the banned Batasuna party urged France to associate itself with the “democratic option” opened up earlier by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.The separatists, who have waged an armed campaign for independence for more than 30 years, declared a permanent ceasefire in March. They called on Paris to renounce repression as a means to resolve the conflict in the Basque country, which includes part of south-western France. Zapatero on Thursday said his government would begin talks with the separatist group ETA, a move which Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi described as “fundamental” in the search for a solution. He said Zapatero’s statement marked a “democratic triumph” for all Basques. Meanwhile a court in Madrid sentenced two ETA members, Javier Garcia Gaztelu and his companion Irantzu Gallastegui Sodupe, to 50 years in prison for their role in the kidnap and murder of a regional councillor in 1997.