Spain's Basque extremists appear vulnerable to oblivion
Some see violent ETA calling cease-fire so political wing can run in May elections

Elizabeth Bryant, Chronicle Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Marisa Arrue Bergareche, a town councilor in Bilbao, has ...

Bilbao, Spain -- The orders were chilling and meticulously detailed. They gave the location of Gotzone Mora's office and described the sociology professor as nearsighted and accessible to students.

"A bullet in the neck is the best method," concluded the document, seized by Basque police six years ago, and believed to have been written by commandos of the Basque extremist group, the ETA. Spain, the United States and the European Union have branded the ETA a terrorist group.

The death threat is one of several received by Mora, a senior member of the local Socialist Party who lives with round-the-clock protection. Nor does the 55-year-old lecturer at the University of the Basque Country believe they will end anytime soon.

"I live in a soft prison," she said, speaking quietly at a hotel in Bilbao, with two young bodyguards sitting close by. "It's like walking down the corridor of death."

But it has been almost 18 months since the ETA last staged a major strike -- bombing attacks in the southern resorts of Alicante and Benidorm that injured 13 people. In this gritty, regional capital and elsewhere in Spain, some analysts believe the days of Europe's last homegrown terrorist group are numbered.

"I think ETA is over," said Pere Vilanova, a political analyst at the University of Barcelona. "It doesn't mean small factions won't stage further killings. But their long-term strategy has failed."

Some Basque politicians believe the ETA may soon declare a unilateral cease-fire -- if only so its now-banned Batasuna Party can be legalized to participate in May regional elections. In 2003, Madrid barred Batasuna from fielding candidates. Even the group's secessionist platform has been scooped by a controversial proposal to separate from Spain peacefully. Known as the Ibarretxe plan, after the moderate Basque President Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the measure passed the regional parliament in November, although Madrid calls it unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, the Spanish parliament voted 313-29 against a measure granting increased autonomy to the Basque region.

Last month, the ETA called for cease-fire talks with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and said it backed a November peace proposal by the Batasuna that called for a political dialogue and "an end to weapons in Basque politics."

Zapatero's government has been battling a separate threat of Islamic terrorism since the March 11 Madrid train bombings and appears to consider the ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Liberty), a less formidable foe.

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