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International mediators draft plan for definitive end to ETA

Conference calls for terrorist group to take first step and for France and Spain to open dialogue if declaration is made

At a meeting lasting three hours in San Sebastián on Monday, an international panel of diplomatic figures called on ETA to make a public declaration of its commitment to a definitive end to violence.

The assembly was headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and included Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, the French ex-minister of Defense and Interior Affairs Pierre Joxe and British cabinet minister in the government of Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell. Billed as a conference for peace, the unprecedented gathering was organized by members of Lokarri, the international social organization headed by South African mediator Brian Currin to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Basque Country, and five other organizations.

The outcome of the meeting was delivered outside the Aiete palace by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and included a set of five recommendations. The first of these is the call for ETA to take the definitive final step it has been mooting since a permanent ceasefire was announced in January.

The Basque abertzale left, which has sought to distance itself from ETA and won political recognition in April through its Bildu coalition, said last month that a definitive laying down of arms was imminent, but is unlikely to occur before the general elections on November 20.

"The possibility of ending the last armed conflict in Europe has arrived," said Ahern. "When there is an opportunity to achieve peace it must be taken up. The growing demand of the people of this country and its political representatives to overcome the conflict through dialogue, democracy and non-violence has created this opportunity."

The text also called on the governments of France and Spain to open dialogue with ETA "exclusively over the consequences of the conflict" in the case that a definitive declaration is forthcoming. It is likely that the situation of ETA prisoners would form part of those negotiations.

The abertzale has long called for jailed ETA members to be moved closer to the Basque Country as part of its own demands for a definitive settlement.

Reconciliation and compensation for the victims of ETA was the third direct demand, with the rest of the text dealing with the willingness of all parties, in consultation with the citizenry, to open discussions to move toward "a new era without conflict."

The international mediators, who in their statement explained why they had formed this committee and laid out their experience in resolving international conflicts, said that they are disposed to oversee the process.

"To achieve a lasting peace is never easy," Ahern said. "It requires courage, a willingness to take risks, profound promises, generosity and the vision of men of state."

Reactions from the main political parties to the conference were mixed. The abertzale welcomed the outcome and released a communiqué, in which it did not specifically cite ETA, saying the recommendations of the international facilitators had opened a "great window of hope toward the definitive surmounting of the political conflict."

Javier Arenas, the Popular Party (PP) vice president, called the meeting "a pantomime" and termed the members of the panel "friends of the terrorists."

While PP leader Mariano Rajoy remained silent on the proceedings, former Prime Minister José María Aznar, who maintained a firm line of non-negotiation with terrorists during his time in office, said that the government "is begging for a message from ETA." Speaking at a forum on relations between Spain, Russia and the US, Aznar said that seeking "equidistance" between ETA and its victims would be "not only a political error, but also a disaster from the moral point of view."

The Collective of Victims of Terrorism in the Basque Country (Covite) sent a document to the international mediation group to put forward their point of view. Titled No to Impunity, the document was written last November by almost all of the associations of victims of ETA and it called on the conference participants to "resist the temptation of judicial or historical impunity."

Covite stated that "the hypothetical end of ETA must make possible the clarification of all of the attacks that remain unsolved and that add up to hundreds of assassinations, injuries, kidnappings and extortions without a known perpetrator."

The association also demanded the public denunciation of terrorism, pecuniary responsibility and the dismantling of "totalitarian ends" that foster the legitimization of terrorism among Basque youth