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Spain shows how peaceful methods can ease terrorist threat

Can some types of terrorism be defeated by peaceful methods? According to a report published last week on Spain's Basque problem, the answer is yes. The international team of security experts that produced the 250-page document concluded that Basque terrorism can be beaten through greater regional autonomy and through negotiations with the violent separatist group called Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA).

Middle Eastern terrorism presents a more difficult problem than the kind of indigenous struggle that Basque separatism represents, the experts admit. Analysts say Mideast terrorism often precludes compromise and eludes peaceful resolution because it is state sponsored, tries to achieve unattainable goals -- such as the destruction of Israel -- or expresses general anger without putting forth specific objectives.

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``This international terrorism is really low-level conflicts between countries,'' said Jacques L'eaut'e in a Monitor interview. It is difficult to solve peacefully, because ``it breaches the laws of war and strikes blindly.''

Mr. L'eaut'e, a former director of the Paris Institute of Criminology, is one of the four members of the commission that spent nine months studying the Basque problem on the invitation of the Basque regional government.

``The Basque demands can be reconciled in today's Spain,'' he continued. ``Basques share Spanish ethnicity and the [Roman] Catholic religion.''

The Basque problem, an indigenous nationalist struggle, goes back four centuries. Ever since Philip II made Madrid the capital of Spain in 1561, the Basques have felt stifled and exploited by Madrid. Frustration turned into terrorism when Gen. Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, outlawed the Basque language, banned Basque public meetings, and brutally enforced his policies in the region.

Basque terrorism continued after Franco. Since 1975, ETA has been responsible for about 500 deaths. United People, a Basque political party linked to the ETA's political wing which supports its demand for an independent state, continues to draw about 10 percent of the region's ballots -- about 150,000 votes.

Still, the violence has diminished in recent years, as Spain's democratic government has moved to satisfy Basque aspirations. Polls show that more than 75 percent of Basques oppose ETA's terrorist tactics. A majority of Basques also believe that an independent Basque state is not a workable possibility, but that increased Basque self-determination is.

L'eaut'e and his fellow experts believe this progress offers the possibility of putting an end to ETA. They advocate firmness ``to show that violence has no chance of succeeding.'' This means using a method that has proven successful in Italy: pardoning terrorists who inform on other terrorists. L'eaut'e said that such tactics have helped reduce the number of ETA terrorists to less than 200.

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But the experts add that ETA remains a political problem. For that reason, they argue that negotiations should ``never'' be ruled out. Instead of denying suspected terrorists habeas corpus under a recently adopted Spanish law, the experts urge that people arrested for ETA membership or activity be tried in Basque courts.

``You can't just call them criminals,'' L'eaut'e explained. ``You must consider an amnesty and negotiations.''

The negotiations should center on trying to remove frustrations inherited from the Franco regime, L'eaut'e said. Allowing the Basques more powers to police themselves is the most vital recommendation.

L'eaut'e believes the Basque region's struggle with terrorism has some relevance for the wider struggle against terrorism. To end the violence, the political causes inspiring it must also be addressed, he says. While he worries about the upsurge in Mideast-inspired terrorism in Europe, he notes that various indigenous nationalist struggles on the continent are subsiding.

``We're draining the water out of the terrorist lake,'' he says. ``Soon, they won't have any place to swim.''

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