MADRID (Reuters) - Arnaldo Otegi, the jailed leader of the banned political wing of ETA, called on the rebel group to declare a permanent cease-fire and said an independent Basque region could only be secured through peaceful, democratic means.
The comments by Otegi, in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, were among his most conciliatory and come roughly six weeks after the separatist group called a halt to armed attacks.
That call has been greeted with scepticism by the government as ETA has broken ceasefires several times in the past, most recently in 2006 with a deadly bomb attack at Madrid airport.
The group has killed more than 850 people in half a century of armed struggle for an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France, but has been crippled by arrests of its members and rising support for non-violence among Basques.
“The most efficient strategy for achieving our goals is seducing people democratically,” Otegi told El Pais, calling on ETA to declare a permanent truce that could be verified by the international community.
He called for “unilateral gestures and actions” to win the support of society and the backing of the international community for a democratic solution to the long-running conflict over the Basque region.
“Weapons, all weapons, must disappear definitively from the Basque political equation,” he said.
Otegi has been arrested several times for praising terrorism and has been serving a two-year jail sentence since March, 2010. His political party Batasuna was banned in 2003 for its ties to ETA.
Late last month, ETA said it was willing to make the cease-fire it declared in early September “permanent and verifiable” if the Spanish government met certain conditions, including freeing some prisoners.
The government has said repeatedly that the only ETA announcement of interest to it would be one announcing the group’s dissolution.
Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Noah Barkin