The World from Berlin 'ETA Is More Isolated than Ever'

Four terrorist bombs caused chaos on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca over the weekend, the second attack in recent weeks. German commentators say further negotiation with the Basque separatist group ETA is futile.


The Basque separatist group ETA, or Euskadi ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom), is believed to be responsible for a wave of attacks on the Spanish resort island of Mallorca over the past few weeks aimed at disrupting the tourist industry there.

The first bomb blasts targeted police stations, one of which was on Mallorca. ETA claimed responsibility for those attacks in a Basque newspaper. Then on Sunday, just 10 days after the first blasts, four more bombs were discovered on Mallorca.

Each of the relatively small bombs were planted in women's lavatories, in two restaurants, a bar and in an underground shopping area. After a telephone warning apparently issued by ETA, authorities evacuated beaches, public spaces and hotels. Three of the bombs went off within an hour of one another and the police detonated the fourth themselves.

Spanish police said that they were not sure whether the ETA cell responsible would still be on the island. They were looking into how the bombs had been detonated, saying that if the devices had been on timers it would have been possible for the explosives to be set days beforehand, then left in the toilets while the terrorists escaped the island. Expert on ETA tactics says that these latest attacks follow ETA's usual pattern, as the group has carried out similar attacks on holiday resorts in the past.

Spanish authorities do not believe that ETA, who are more likely to go after police or military, was targeting tourists or even the Spanish royal family, who are holidaying on the island. Rather, authorities emphasized, they are more interested in creating a climate of fear and disrupting Spain's lucrative and all-important tourist industry during the high season.

Mallorca, for example, gets over 20 million visitors a year. Early this week though, German travel agencies and airlines had not reported any noticeable drop in bookings for travel to Mallorca, which is a major holiday destination for Germans. And Wolf-Ruthart Born, the German ambassador to Spain, told the Spanish radio station Cadena SER that Germans should exercise caution when travelling in Spain but they should not stop coming. After all, he said, if the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, is happy to stay there on holiday then that's good enough for German tourists too.

Meanwhile Spanish police have released six names of the ETA members that they believe to be behind the July 30 attack. Two of them -- Itziar Moreno Martinez and Iratxe Yanez Ortiz de Barron -- are women. Spanish police also think that the two attacks -- the first deadly bombing that killed two policemen and the weekend's bathroom bombs -- were the work of two separate ETA cells. Meanwhile tourists have been told to prepare for a summer of extra security measures.

Two days after the latest attacks, German commentators make note of the increasing weakness of ETA, given that recent arrests and political ostracism have seen the group shrink in size and power. They also argue for several different solutions to the ETA problem, from hard-line counter-terrorism measures to better education of Basque youth. None of them see any point in negotiating with the terrorists, though.

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Once again (Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez) Zapatero's government has had a painful reminder that nothing has worked -- from the broad offers of talks or negotiations to increased police pressure and intimidation -- to bring about what the overwhelming majority of Spaniards wish for: no more violence from ETA. This will never happen, as this band of murderers and blackmailers, who like to call themselves 'leftwing patriots,' have long since become partly 'nationalist,' in other words racist, and partly 'people's democrats,' in other words a bunch of stone-age socialists. There is nothing to negotiate about any more."

"No minority in any European nation has the sort of sovereignty that the Basques have today. And there's no doubt that they are capable of governing themselves. If we are talking about prosperity, standards of living and social security then the three Basque states are far ahead of any other Spanish province. And the majority of the Basque people no longer sympathize with ETA. So there is only really one way to deal with these people -- one must capture these terrorists, hold them accountable at a proper trial, pass judgement and throw them in jail."

"ETA's terrorism has had one interesting side effect: What they are doing could strengthen the position of the monarchy in Spain as Juan Carlos proves his courage and steadfastness once again. And in a country so starkly divided by regional differences, that can only be a good thing."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Politically ETA is isolated. Neither politicians in Madrid nor in the Basque country, which has been ruled by a socialist-conservative coalition for the past three months, are interested in dialogue with ETA. They have also lost ground in Basque society. Their tactics of intimidation are having less effect and their critics have gained ground here too."

"In fact, the group from which ETA gets the most sympathy is young people. A survey conducted by the ombudsman of the Basque parliament found that 15 percent of 16-year-olds agree with the violence the terrorist organisation uses; another 12 percent are indifferent to it. And it is within this segment of the population that ETA runs campaigns about the release of ETA prisoners and recruits for its youth group, the 'kale borroka.' The term literally means 'street fighting' in the Basque language and the group comprises youngsters that set cars and shops on fire and extort protection money that they describe as a 'revolutionary tax.'"

"Placed in these situations, the Basque youths systematically become used to violence. They know no sympathy for the victims of terror, for the widows and the orphans. ETA's political isolation and social ostracism are only part of the solution that will end the terrorist nightmare. At the end of the day, the solution will depend upon education. Within family homes, at schools and in public generally, these dangerous nationalist myths must be eradicated."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Without a doubt, the terrorist organisation is weaker than ever. In 1980, at the tragic highpoint of their 50-year career, ETA's body count stood at 92. Last year it stood at four. Halfway through this year, the body count stands at three. Another blow to ETA has been the more intensive cooperation between French and Spanish forces of justice. This has seen a number of high-ranking ETA leaders arrested in the French Basque country."

"And ETA is more isolated than it has perhaps ever been. Its political wing, Batasuna, is illegal and the other candidates that ETA often supports were banned from running in regional elections in the Basque country. And while almost a quarter of the Basque people still want independence for the region, according to the latest survey by the research group Euskobarometer, only 1 percent support ETA's methods."

"Meanwhile in Madrid, ETA's calls for a new dialogue have fallen upon deaf ears since the terrorists unilaterally withdrew from Zapatero's peace process. Spain's main political parties are now united in their belief that ETA can only be dealt with through legal means."

"Still, despite all of this, it seems the terrorists will always be capable of committing isolated acts of murder. Which means that the series of bombs on Mallorca won't be the last of ETA's annual 'summer campaigns' with which the group tries to seriously damage Spain's all-important tourist industry."

-- Cathrin Schaer

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