ETA prisoners tell leadership to bring an end to violence

Former members of Basque terrorist group sign peace pledge

A major, perhaps definitive step toward a peaceful end to more than 30 years of violence in the Basque Country was taken on Sunday when two former ETA activists pledged the support of 700 of their colleagues held in Spanish jails for an initiative that calls for the terrorist group to lay down its arms once and for all.

On Sunday, the two ex-prisoners signed an accord agreed 10 months ago in the Basque city of Gernika, prepared by parties representing the Basque pro-independence left that requires ETA to end its campaign of violence and pursue its objectives through purely political means.

The move came after hundreds of jailed members of ETA backed the Gernika accord on Friday, putting further pressure on ETA to disband. The prisoners also criticized their treatment by the Spanish state, and said that they should be granted amnesty.

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The two former activists, one of whom was sentenced to 30 years for the killing of two people, signed the accord at a meeting attended by key members of the left-wing pro-independence community, among them several members of Batasuna, ETA's political wing, and which remains a proscribed organization.

Growing numbers of ETA prisoners are keen to take advantage of a government initiative to begin early release by asking the families of their victims for forgiveness, and by making a commitment to support non-violence.

The Spanish government continues to pursue ETA's leadership. On September 15, the National Court sentenced Arnaldo Otegi to 10 years in prison for terrorism and trying to resurrect Batasuna on the orders of ETA. On Saturday, more than 10,000 people marched in Bilbao to protest the sentence.

ETA declared a permanent ceasefire last year, but the government rejected it as insufficient because it didn't come with full disarmament. The organization has been weakened by a string of arrests and seizures of arms caches.

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