MADRID -- The armed Basque separatist group ETA unilaterally declared a cease-fire yesterday for the northeastern region of Catalonia, but the move was immediately criticized by Spain's prime minister and politicians who refuse to negotiate with the militant group.
ETA has had 11 cease-fires since beginning its deadly campaign in the 1960s, but until yesterday it had never been known to announce a partial cease-fire.
"The government rejects all form of dealings with ETA which doesn't entail the laying down of arms," Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said. "The only way ETA can be defeated completely is through police and legal action with international help."
He was speaking after a taped video broadcast by television stations showed a hooded ETA spokesman saying the armed group "had ceased all its activities in the [Catalan] region as of Jan. 1, 2004, with the aim of uniting ties between the Basque and Catalan peoples on the basis of respect, noninterference, and solidarity."
The ETA spokesman sat beside another hooded ETA member -- both wearing black jackets and berets -- at a table with the armed group's flag bearing the snake and ax symbol behind. Basque and Catalan independence flags could also be seen.
The cease-fire follows a meeting last month between ETA leaders and Josep Carod-Rovira, who was then second-in-charge of the Catalan regional government and head of the pro-Catalan independence Republican Left party.
Politicians across Spain dismissed the move as "repulsive" and "unacceptable."
"We don't want any pardon from ETA," said Catalan regional president Pasqual Maragall. "That they should say they won't kill in Catalonia infuriates us. It's a perversion to use death to divide the people of Spain."
Basque regional president Juan Jose Ibarretxe said: "Politically it's sickening, and ethically it's immoral."
Interior Minister Angel Acebes described the announcement as "repulsive to democracy, to reason, to freedom, and especially to the victims of terrorism."
He described the cease-fire as "a trap" by which ETA wished to give the appearance that it had an important role to play.
"The only statement I want from ETA is one saying it has broken up and stopped all armed activity in all of Spain," said Gaspar Llamazares, head of the United Left coalition, Spain's fourth-ranking political group.
ETA last declared a cease-fire in 1998, which lasted 14 months. In recent years, police operations in Spain and France have seriously curtailed its actions. The group has killed 46 people since the end of the last cease-fire, including three last year.
The announcement is likely to figure heavily in campaigning for general elections March 14. Also yesterday, Aznar's Popular Party called on the leading opposition Socialist party to break its government coalition agreement with Carod-Rovira's party in Catalonia.
Carod-Rovira was forced to resign following public disclosure this month of the secret meeting with ETA leaders. He said he had agreed to meet the two ETA leaders with the idea of trying to achieve peace, not negotiate.
ETA, whose name means Basque Homeland and Freedom, has claimed responsibility for more than 800 deaths since 1968 in its campaign for an independent Basque state.