Dying days of ETA ?
By Elizabeth Bryant

Getxo, Spain, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- In a town infamous for Basque separtist attacks, Marisa Arrue Bergareche is among the hunted.

The slight, 55-year-old lawmaker from Spain's conservative Popular Party lives with round-the-clock bodyguards, rarely venturing out for social occasions. Bergareche says she is regularly ridiculed by Basque separatist sympathizers, who attend monthly municipal meetings in Getxo, an affluent town of red-tiled villas, located a 20-minute metro ride from the Basque capital of Bilbao.

Arrue can't even count the number of threats she has received over the years from ETA. Altogether, the Basque separatist group has assassinated some 15 Getxo residents over the years and kidnapped and threatened scores more, making Getxo one of Spain's top targets of violence.

But these days Arrue is breathing a bit more freely. It has been more than a year since ETA staged a major attack. Today some -- although not Arrue -- even guardedly predict the demise of Europe's last, homegrown militant group.

"The terrorists can still kill," said Arrue, during an interview at Getxo's ochre-colored town hall, where she juggles duties as a local council with those as deputy in the Spanish Parliament. "It doesn't take a lot to plant a bomb. But things have gotten better."

In a statement published Sunday in the Basque newspaper Gara, ETA called for talks with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and said it backed a November peace proposal by the Batasuna Party, its banned political arm. And in a letter last August, half a dozen senior ETA members languishing in Spanish jails called on ETA to renounce its 37-year-old campaign of violence for an independent Basque state in northern Spain and parts of southwestern France.

"ETA is dying a slow death," concluded the letter leaked to Spanish newspapers that urged the Basque organization to turn to political means to achieve its goal.

A myriad of reasons lie behind ETA's weakness. Stepped-up anti-terrorism cooperation between France and Spain in recent years has resulted in hundreds of cross-border arrests of Basque separatist suspects.

One of the most dazzling coups occurred in the French Pyrenees in October, when French police nabbed Mikel Albizu Iriarte and Soledad Ipartagirre -- a couple believed to have been the respective political and military leaders of ETA.

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