Spain rejects Basque separatists Eta talks offer

Eta militants making the statement Eta announced an end to its campaign of violence last year

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Spain has rejected an offer by Basque separatist group Eta to enter talks with Spain and France to negotiate a "definitive end" to its operations.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said Spain would not negotiate with a "terrorist organisation" and demanded Eta's "unconditional dissolution".

The Basque country straddles the border between Spain and France, which shares Madrid's view on negotiations.

Eta has fought a 45-year campaign for Basque independence.

But the armed group has lost support in recent years. Last year it announced an end to its campaign of violence.

Spain demands

The new statement suggests the organisation wants to go a step further by disbanding completely and turning in its weapons.

The summary published on the website of the Basque newspaper Gara suggests Eta is ready for talks, but will attach conditions to disbanding.

Izaskun Lesaka, centre, surrounded by French Police officers, screams as she leaves the hotel where she was arrested with another suspected member of Eta Suspected head of military operations Izaskun Lesaka is one of several Eta militants arrested

They include the transfer of Basque prisoners to prisons closer to their homes - a long-standing Eta demand.

In his response, the interior minister said: "They know that we have not negotiated nor will we negotiate in any way with the terrorist organisation."

"So the only statement the government demands, not requests but demands and is working for, is its unconditional dissolution."

Eta is believed to be responsible for more than 800 deaths, and is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the US.

It has been weakened in recent years by a loss of support among Basque people, and a number of arrests, including that of the group's alleged military leader in October.

Eta's move came on the eve of elections in the Spanish region of Catalonia, in which Catalan nationalists calling for a referendum on independence are expected to do well.

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