Spain’s banned political party Batasuna has urged France to play a part in the Basque peace process. Party leader Arnaldo Otegi called on Paris to “abandon the way of repression.” It came a day after the Spanish premier said his government would start talks with ETA, the armed separatist group which Batasuna has been linked to.
Shortly after Otegi’s news conference in San Sebastian, two Batasuna leaders presented a letter to advisers of President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace. The document said France should “stop viewing the Basque problem as an internal Spanish problem.” A minority of the Basque population on either side of the border wants to see a state made up of Spain’s Basque region and Navarra, as well the French Basque country. Spain’s premier, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has insisted the forthcoming talks will focus on ETA’s dissolution and the status of more than 500 ETA prisoners in Spanish jails.
The separatists want the prisoners transferred nearer to the Basque Country. They also want a referendum on the region’s future. ETA declared a permanent ceasefire in March 2006. Its limited support was undermined by growing public revulsion against violence following the Islamist train bombings in Madrid in 2004. Police in Spain and France had arrested hundreds of ETA suspects since 2000 and weakened its armed struggle.
Tomorrow Zapatero will discuss the Basque peace process with French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.