Valencia, Spain, Feb 13 (EFE).- Terror victims participating in an international conference in this Spanish city said Monday that governments and international organizations should allow them to play a role in the formulation of strategies to fight terrorism because they have the best understanding of the problem.
The proposal was made during the first roundtable discussion at the 3rd International Congress of Terror Victims, a gathering that is taking place amid a debate in Spain over whether the violence spawned by the Basque terrorist group ETA is nearing the end.
Three days after Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that circumstances were propitious for "the beginning of the beginning of the end" to ETA terrorism, victims of the group taking part in the congress discussed their experiences and the current situation in Spain.
Most of those taking part in the gathering are survivors or relatives of victims of the Basque terrorist group ETA and of the armed conflict in Colombia, but victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and the attacks in Madrid on March ll, 2004, and London on July 7, 2005, are also participating.
The two-day congress, whose goal is to give victims "a voice," was inaugurated by Prince Felipe, the heir to the Spanish crown, and EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini.
In the wake of the statements made by Zapatero and Basque politicians, like nationalist Xabier Arzalluz, who said there could be a truce with ETA, which launched a bombs and bullets campaign for the Basque region’s independence nearly 40 years ago, victims expressed concern about the concessions the government might make in negotiations.
Participants at the congress were especially concerned about the possibility of ETA members being offered amnesty in exchange for laying down their arms.
Francisco Jose Alcaraz, president of the Association of Victims of Terrorism, or AVT, the largest such group in Spain, rejected on Monday negotiations with ETA since they would lead to making the "murderers and the murdered" the same and mean that "hundreds of deaths were in vain."
Zapatero said in a press conference last Friday that his appraisal of the current situation represented neither "optimism nor pessimism," but it was rather based on facts such as an absence of lethal ETA attacks since May 2003. He also cited "information the government has," which he said must be handled with discretion.
ETA, an acronym for the Basque language words for Homeland and Freedom, has killed more than 800 people since taking up arms in 1968 to seek a Basque nation comprising parts of northern Spain and southern France. The group has often employed car bombs or sidewalk assassinations of military or police personnel, as well as politicians, journalists and government officials.
The Basque region enjoys significant autonomy and is governed by a moderate nationalist party that, like the great majority of Basques, rejects ETA and terrorist violence.
Irene Villa, a victim of ETA, said she was skeptical about a possible end to the terror in the northern Spanish region and, even if she "would like to believe it," the current situation in the Basque region led her to conclude that an end to the violence was not yet near.
Villa, an AVT member, said "a pact already exists" between the government and the terrorist group that she considered "illegitimate" since it allowed "murderers" to be accepted as legitimate intermediaries.
The AVT and the conservative Popular Party (PP), Spain’s main opposition party, contend that Zapatero’s Socialist government has established contacts with ETA that it is hiding from the public.
Survivors and relatives of victims of terrorist attacks from other parts of the world called for a greater role to be given to those with firsthand knowledge of the problem in developing strategies for fighting terrorism.
Bruce Wallace, a member of the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, said victims must join forces and use gatherings like this so that those affected by terrorism "can be able to construct an effective structure that will allow us to be important agents in (setting terrorism) policy around the world."
Wallace said that even though victims have demanded support and justice on many occasions, it was necessary to "repeat this again because we have still not changed society" and "there are still places in the world where the terrorists are considered heroes."
William Frazer, a victim of Irish Republican Army terror, said it was regrettable that for a long time the terrorists "went around the world justifying their actions," but he said victims were a "powerful force for preventing them from continuing to justify their actions."
Frazer said there were reasons for governments to negotiate with terrorist groups, but not to please them, and he said that "only when the hatred is gone" would these people "stop fighting for their cause."
Peace, according to Frazer, should "not be dictated by the terrorists."
Arnold Roth, whose 15-year-old daughter was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, criticized the fact that the United Nations has not been able to produce a document on terrorism after a nine-year effort.
Madrid hosted the first International Congress of Terror Victims in 2004, and the second congress was held in Bogota, Colombia, last year. EFE
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