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ETA can't be trusted, says minister

The Spanish government has dismissed a new ceasefire announcement by the Basque separatist group ETA saying the militants could not be trusted.

Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the group was decimated by arrests and desperate to regroup and rearm. "The word truce, as the idea of a limited peace to open a process of dialogue, is dead," he said.

He also ruled out negotiations on their goal of an independent homeland. And he said ETA could not be trusted after shattering a 2006 truce with a deadly car bombing.

He insisted its statement on Sunday by three hooded militants speaking in a video fell short of what Basque society and other Spaniards demand: that ETA renounce violence for good.

Perez Rubalcaba told Spanish National Television Spain would be as tough as ever against ETA.

But the regional government immediately dismissed the announcement as meaningless because ETA failed to renounce violence or announce its dissolution. "It's absolutely insufficient because it does not take into account what the vast majority of Basque society demands and requires from ETA, which is that it definitively abandon terrorist activity," Basque regional interior minister Rodolfo Ares said in the first official comment on the announcement.

The new pledge from ETA, which has been fighting for an independent homeland in parts of northern Spain and south-western France since the late 1960s, left several key questions unanswered.

Besides silence on whether it will surrender its weapons, it did not say if the truce was open-ended and permanent, such as the one declared in 2006, or whether it would halt other activities such as extorting money from business leaders or recruiting members. Nor was there any mention of whether the ceasefire could be monitored by international observers as called for on Friday by two Basque parties that back independence - ETA's outlawed political wing Batasuna and a more moderate pro-independence party called Eusko Alkartasuna.

Sunday's announcement came in a video sent to the BBC and a statement published by the newspaper Gara - a pro-independence daily that often serves as a mouthpiece for ETA. The video showed three masked militants sitting at a table with a sign bearing the ETA insignia behind them - a snake curled around an axe.

The statement said: "ETA makes it known that as of some months ago it took the decision to no longer employ offensive armed actions," adding: "If the government of Spain has the will, ETA, today as in the past, is willing to agree to the democratic minimums necessary to undertake the democratic process."

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