Framegrab from footage released September 5, 2010, of Basque separatists ETA declaring a ceasefire (Photo: Reuters)
International negotiators met in the Basque Country on Monday to pave the way for a historic, definitive end to armed Basque separatist group ETA.
Basque Country regional president Patxi Lopez joined other policymakers in calling on ETA to seize on the results of the one-day conference here as a basis to shut down operations for good.
Visiting Ground Zero in New York on the eve of the meeting here, Lopez said ETA was "already broken" and that democracy and democrats did not need any conference to defeat terrorism.
But "if ETA and its supporters need it to stage their final end, I want to tell them to take advantage of this opportunity, to truly take advantage to put a final end to it," he told Spanish journalists.
Speculation is mounting that ETA, listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union and held responsible for 829 deaths, will do so.
The timing is important, coming shortly before November 20 elections widely expected to turn the ruling Socialists from power and install the conservative Popular Party.
"I think we are in the waiting room or on the verge of what could be an announcement of the definitive end to violence by ETA, and it is of capital importance politically and socially," Joseba Egibar, head of the executive of the Basque nationalist party PNV, told Basque radio, Radio Euskadi.
Among the delegates to the conference are former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams, Irish ex-prime minister Bertie Ahern and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Bruntland.
"Today's gathering is a very, very significant step and hopefully we will see a step change in the situation arising from today's initiative," Adams told Ireland's RTE state radio Monday.
A key to developing an end to conflict is to find an alternative and develop dialogue, Adams said.
"It is my view that can happen in the Basque Country in the same way as it happened in our country," he added.
"Obviously the Spanish government has to embrace such an approach. It is a two-way street, the whole business of peace-making."
Adams said he was "very hopeful" that because of their prominence the participants would be able to persuade all sides to "move on and to move into proper dialogue."
Both ETA and the Spanish government must respond "in a very significant way", he said ahead of the meeting organised by the Basque social movement Lokarri and the International Contact Group of figures seeking to foster an end to the violence.
ETA, born during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, has been edging towards the final page for some time, hastened by Basque secessionists who urged that the cause be defended with ballots, not bombs and bullets.
Severely weakened by the Spanish security forces, which detained successive waves of its leadership, the armed group has launched no attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.
ETA took a significant step further by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in January this year.
In September, ETA announced that most of its 700 imprisoned members had also agreed to abandon violence, backing a proposal for a permanent, verifiable ceasefire.
More than five years ago, ETA and the Spanish government seemed to be making progress towards an agreement.
ETA declared a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 for talks with the government.
But, nine months later, ETA militants set off a bomb in the Madrid-Barajas airport car park, killing two men and setting in stone a Spanish policy of refusing future negotiations.