TOWARD THE END OF TERRORISM

PP government offers to ease jail conditions for ETA convicts

Victims’ group says move amounts to “betrayal” Prime Minister Rajoy denies any change in antiterrorism policy

In radical move, the Interior Ministry on Thursday announced that it will modify the nation’s penitentiary policy by introducing a new program to help ETA prisoners reintegrate into society as long as they publicly renounce violence and disassociate themselves from the Basque terrorist organization.

Prisoners who have been convicted for organized crime and other terrorist acts will also benefit from this plan, explained Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz.

Under the new program it will now be easier for ETA prisoners to seek transfers to serve out their jail sentences in the Basque County to be closer to their families and, for those who qualify, to apply for early release under good-conduct time credit, work furloughs and parole.

Inmates, however, won’t have to offer any apologies to their victims, as was the case under the previous Socialist government’s policy, in order to qualify for sentencing benefits.

ETA announced a “definitive” end to terrorist violence last September.

Even though the Popular Party (PP) government appears to have relaxed the country’s penitentiary policies, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Thursday that it doesn’t change his administration’s anti-terrorism stance.

There is nothing to negotiate with ETA, and we are not going to do it”

“We haven’t changed nor are we going to change our anti-terrorism policy,” the prime minister said. “ETA must disband, and nothing else.”

The Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) criticized the government’s move, saying that the Rajoy administration was “bowing to the interests” of ETA and called the program “betrayal of the memory of the victims.”

Meanwhile, members of radical Basque abertzale left, who have been seeking ways to help bring ETA inmates back home, said they were disappointed with the announcement because the program doesn’t offer any new changes to a policy that has been in effect for the past 20 years and called it “a smoke screen.”

“Basque society is demanding an immediate and definite stop to the inhumane policy that is being applied solely to Basque political prisoners,” the abertzale said in a statement. In a separate meeting with reporters in Gernika, Maribi Ugarteburu, spokeswoman for the abertzale, said that the program to reintegrate Basque inmates into society “is not a step forward but a move toward a mistaken direction because it only reaffirms previous conditions” that are already included in the current national penitentiary policy.

A group of international mediators, led by South African lawyer Brian Currin, has asked the Spanish and French governments to be more lenient toward ETA prisoners to help facilitate a permanent ceasefire by the Basque terrorist group. But Rajoy reiterated his firm stance on Thursday.

“There is nothing to negotiate with ETA, and we are not going to do it,” he said.