NATIONALISM and ETHNIC CONFLICT page
 


 INDIA
September 17, 1998
  INDIAN EXPLORES ASSAM OPENING
  Intelligence officials in India have flown 60 leaders of an Assamese rebel group to Delhi for exploratory talks on starting a full dialogue aimed at a peace settlement in the north-eastern state.
  Indian officials said the rebels - the United Liberation Front of Assam, or ULFA - are trying to find out whether they can agree an agenda for negotiations.
  The delegation is led by Swadhinata Phukan, an influential member of the ULFA's central executive council.
  Sources in the ULFA said they had been promised safe passage, although it is unclear whether the chief of ULFA's military wing, Paresh Parua, has approved the visit.
  If talks finally begin, the ULFA would be the second powerful rebel group in north-east India to start negotiations with the Indian government.
  The national socialist council of Nagaland, or the NSCN, has already started talks with with the government in Delhi.
  The BBC's Subir Bhaumik says that until recently, the ULFA had refused any talks unless the Indian government agreed to discuss Assamese sovereignty.
  However, he says that for the first time since it was formed 20 years ago, the ULFA has come intense pressure from the Indian army, losing many of its military commanders in action.
  In addition, its general secretary, Golap Barua, alias Anup Chetia, is facing trial in Bangladesh, and some other top leaders of the organisation are undergoing medical treatment in foreign countries.
  Assam - which has considerable economic resources - has been gripped by violent conflict over the last two decades between various ethnic groups in the state.
  Bodo tribal groups are demanding a separate homeland - and the removal of non-Bodo groups from areas where they are in the majority.
  More than 600 people have died in violence since 1994.

 July 24, 1998

  REBELS THREATEN INDEPENDENCE DAY
 
  The BBC's Subir Bhaumik reports from Calcutta
  FIVE SEPARATIST REBEL GROUPS IN NORTH-EAST INDIA have jointly called for a collective boycott of the Indian Independence Day celebrations on 15 August.
  In a joint statement late on Friday the groups said that they will do everything possible to disrupt ceremonies throughout the north-eastern region.
  The groups have been waging guerrilla warfare against Indian security forces for more than two decades and intelligence officials say they expect large scale violence on Independence Day.
  For the last two months the rebels have been trying to create a united political and military front to fight Indian control over the north-eastern region, which is linked to the Indian mainland by a thin 21km wide corridor.
  It is not yet known how much success the guerrillas have had in forging the proposed front but their declaration late on Friday shows they are ready for some collective military action.
  In a press statement jointly issued from somewhere in north-east India, the five groups said they would disrupt official ceremonies on Independence Day, if necessary by force.
  The statement accused India of pursuing a ruthless campaign of suppression against the movements for self-determination in the region.
  It blamed successive Indian governments for undermining the demographic structure of the region by encouraging population transfers from the main states of India.
  Negotiations turned down
  The rebels made it clear they have no interest in offers of negotiations put across by Delhi after the new Hindu nationalist government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party took office earlier this year.
  The five signatories to the statement are the UNITED LIBERATION FRONT OF ASSAM, THE UNITED NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT AND THE REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE'S FRONT OF MANIPUR, ALL TRIPURA TIGER FORCE AND A BREAKAWAY FACTION OF THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST COUNCIL OF NAGALAND, led by the Burmese Naga leader, S S Khablang.
  Observers say their attempt to form a united front was motivated by the decision by the strongest rebel group - the main faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - to start negotiations with Delhi.

June 26, 1998

  INDIAN OFFICIALS MEET NAGA REBELS FOR TALKS IN BANGKOK
  Indian officials say they have met Naga separatist rebel leaders in a new round of negotiations aimed at settling the FORTY-YEAR-OLD INSURRECTION IN NORTH-EAST INDIA, bordering Burma.
  The talks involved the National Socialist Council of Nagaland -- the NSCN -- and an Indian delegation led by the former governor of the state of Mizoram, Swaraj Kaushal, who helped negotiate a settlement with Naga rebels twelve years ago.
  The NSCN leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, told the BBC that the talks, in Bangkok, were held in a cordial atmosphere but that the positions of the two sides were widely conflicting.

SPAIN - BASQUE SEPARATISTS
September 17, 1998
  CAUTIOUS REACTION TO ETA CEASEFIRE
  ETA leaders making their ceasefire announcement
  The Spanish Government has reacted cautiously to a CEASEFIRE DECLARED BY THE BASQUE SEPARATIST ORGANISATION ETA, EXPRESSING A MIXTURE OF HOPE AND SCEPTICISM AT THE CHANCES FOR ENDING 30 YEARS OF VIOLENCE.
  "When a criminal stops committing crimes, it is positive," said Justice Minister Margarita Mariscal de Gante, just hours after ETA had declared an indefinite ceasefire to take effect on Friday.
  But she added that ETA's announcement must be carefully analysed before drawing any firm conclusions.
  Foreign Minister Abel Matutes gave a cautious welcome to the ETA announcement, but pointed out that it does not include the abandonment of weapons.
  Mr Matutes also dismissed comparisons between the situations in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country.
  Before ETA's announcement, the Popular Party government dismissed any possible ceasefire as a ploy by ETA to buy time in order to regroup.
  Demand for Basque independence
  ETA said in an eight-point communique that it would cease all armed attacks from September 18.
  But the communique also says the organisation will continue to resupply itself, will maintain its structures, and will defend itself if attacked.
  ETA also reasserts its demand for independence for the Basque country, but suggests that it is willing to enter peace talks.
  The BBC Southern Europe Correspondent, Orla Guerin, says the announcement is likely to be widely welcomed by the local community, which is weary of war.
 The Socialist opposition in Spain says the ceasefire is a hopeful development and the government should not waste the opportunity provided by the announcement.
  "I insist that people need peace and it is our duty to try to arrange it," a Socialist spokesman Juan Alberto Belloch said.
  Northern Ireland example
  There has been growing pressure from a broad range of interests in the Basque country - including nationalist parties, trade unions, social groups and peace campaigners - for a peace process like the one in Northern Ireland.
  ETA has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in its 30-year fight for independence.
  The organisation was still killing people as recently as three months ago. The latest casualty was a councillor from Spain's ruling Popular Party.
  The prime minister himself avoided an assassination attempt by ETA in 1995.
  Our correspondent says ETA is understood to have been heavily influenced by the Northern Ireland peace process. Its political wing has been schooled by Sinn Fein on strategy for negotiation.
  Peace campaigners say an ETA ceasefire would be a breakthrough and one which could kick-start a Basque peace process.

 September 17, 1998

  ETA'S BLOODY PAST
  ETA has reasserted its demand for independence
  By Jo Episcopo
  The Basque separatist group ETA first emerged in the late 1950s as a clandestine resistance movement opposed to the military dictatorship of Spain's General Franco.
  Under the Franco regime the Basque people were bitterly persecuted, their unique language was banned and their distinctive culture oppressed.
  As a result many Basques went into exile abroad, others joined ETA's fight.
  Autonomy moves
  When General Franco died in 1976 and democracy was restored in Spain many exiles returned. Spain's new democratic government granted considerable autonomy to the country's regions.
  The northern Basque region of 2.5 million people was given it's own parliament, it was granted control over areas like education and tax, and the distinctive Basque language and culture was promoted in schools and communities.
  Many people felt autonomy had gone far enough and that with their own political representation (ETA's legal political wing Herri Batasuna was founded in 1978) - ETA no longer had a purpose.
  Violence intensifies
  But a minority still believed the Basques should have full independence from Spain.
  Against the wishes of the majority of those in the Basque region, a much smaller ETA focussed its struggle on fighting for full independence.
  ETA's violence intensified with the security forces and politicians becoming the group's main targets.
  Dirty war
  The former Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez attempted to combat ETA's violence by setting up the GAL - illegal so-called anti-terrorist liberation groups who were responsible for the deaths of 28 suspected ETA members.
  At least 10 of those killed had no connection with the armed group. Senior members of Felipe Gonzalez's then government have now been jailed for their role in setting up the GAL.
  Peace moves
  In 1992 secret talks between ETA members and the then Socialist government took place in Algeria but they failed to end the conflict.
  Spain's current centre-right Popular Party government - elected in 1996 - has adopted a hardline approach with ETA and its supporters.
  Last December the entire 23 member leadership of ETA's political wing Herri Batasuna were sentenced to seven years each in jail for collaborating with the armed group.
  The Ireland effect
  The ruling Popular Party has consistently maintained there will be no talks with ETA until it calls an indefinite ceasefire to show it is serious about finding peace. There has been mounting public pressure for ETA to end the conflict.
  In July 1997 an estimated 6 million Spanish people took to the streets to condemn ETA following the brutal kidnapping and murder of a young Basque politician.
  The recent events in Northern Ireland have greatly influenced public opinion in Spain.
  Moderate Basque nationalist parties have repeatedly called for peace talks citing Northern Ireland as the model to follow. In addition leading members involved in the peace process in northern Ireland have been working closely with Basque politicians.
  It is still early days but ETA's offer of an indefinite ceasefire marks the first real step in finding a solution to the 30-year conflict.