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Uploaded on Oct 20, 2011

By James Robbins and Stuart Hughes

The Basque separatist paramilitary organisation, ETA, has announced what it calls "a definitive cessation of armed activity." In a videotaped message passed on by third parties to BBC News, leaders of the outlawed organisation, which has been responsible for the killing of more than 800 people, say "dialogue and agreement must characterise the new age."

The words "definitive cessation of armed activity" in the ETA statement are seen as crucial. International mediators have urged their inclusion to signal something much more than a ceasefire. ETA has promised and broken ceasefires in the past.

ETA was formed more than fifty years ago, during the dictatorship of General Franco, to demand the establishment of a Basque state separate from the rest of Spain.

A huge bomb in 1973 killed Spain's Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco in Madrid.

1980 was ETA's bloodiest year. The group killed nearly 100 people.

Over the last decade ETA has been squeezed by the arrests of many of its leaders and falling support.

Secret mediation has been taking place in recent years to try to replicate some of the successes of the Northern Ireland Peace process. A number of key players involved in that process, including Gerry Adams and Tony Blair, have played a part.

Speaking to BBC News, Tony Blair said "This is obviously a very big moment. This has been the last armed conflict in Europe. It has been going on for half a century and many people have lost their lives. A definitive end to violence is the absolute pre-requisite, it's what we've been urging upon the parties. This is great news if people actually can put this conflict behind them and get on with trying to build a fair and just society in peace and harmony."

Gerry Adams told the BBC "I first became involved as long ago as 12 years. I went there (to the Basque country), I've gone on a number of occasions, talked to all the players. Over that 12 year period senior people from my office and from Tony Blair's office have done an awful lot of backroom work to assist and encourage the process."

The BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent, James Robbins, says the key tests now include the reaction of the Madrid government. It has refused in recent years direct negotiations with ETA or its political wing, Batasuna. But there are signs this new ETA declaration could open the way for complex talks over the possible release of hundreds of ETA prisoners in Spanish jails and the elimination of ETA's considerable stock of arms and explosives.


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