Basque separatists have escalated their campaign of violence. In the last week alone, a series of car bombings and shootings has claimed two lives and left another dozen people injured; four Basque activists were killed when the bomb they were transporting went off prematurely. The Spanish people have rallied in defense of their government and against the separatists. The violence must be condemned by all.

The perpetrators are members of the ETA — Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Liberty. Since taking up arms in 1968, the group has killed nearly 800 civilians and military personnel. Two years ago, it declared a unilateral ceasefire so it could negotiate with the government — and rearm. The ceasefire ended last December, and the ETA resumed its fight with savage fury. There have been a dozen attacks over the previous month, including two political assassinations.

It is unclear why the ETA has returned to violence. It could be angry with the mainstream Basque Nationalist Party, which is allied with the government, administers the Basque government and has backed away from demanding full independence. Another theory is that the campaign is designed to drive a wedge between Basque moderates and the national government. By this logic, Madrid’s security clampdown will alienate moderates and force them to ally with the ETA.

The ETA is trying to do what Irish Republicans did in Northern Ireland: force the Spanish government to negotiate. The problem is that Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar won a landslide election in March and millions of Spaniards have taken to the streets to protest the violence. Madrid has given the Basque region considerable autonomy, and there is no popular movement to go further. Plainly, the Basque problem is not the same as that in Northern Ireland.

The result is a murderous campaign that will do nothing except claim innocent lives. It must be made clear to the ETA that they will find no allies, nor any support, as they pursue this bloody course.

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