The Basque separatist group ETA has said it is ending four decades of armed struggle and called for talks with the Spanish and French authorities on ending Europe's last major guerrilla conflict.

The statement was issued in English on Basque newspaper Gara's website, potentially heralding the end of Western Europe's last major violent secessionist group, blamed for 829 deaths.

Three masked ETA members sat behind a table to read the statement, raising their fists in the air at the end of the video.

Today's declaration is a significant shift for ETA, whose goal was to carve out an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France, and takes the group far beyond the permanent ceasefire it announced in January.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has declared the ceasfire as "a victory for democracy."

The nationalist group has been severely weakened in recent years by the arrests of hundreds of its members and seizures of its weapons. It has also come under pressure from its own political arm and former members, now in prison, to disband.

ETA was formed in the late 1950s during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who suppressed the Basque language and culture. Over the years the group killed 829 people, according to the Spanish government, and the death toll in the conflict goes higher when it includes death squad killings of ETA members and bystanders.

In recent years there have been signs that peace was gradually coming to Basque country. Politicians tied to ETA and banned from running for office, grew weary of the conflict and began to believe they could fight for Basque autonomy through politics rather than violence.

The successful government crackdown on Basque members reduced the state of fear in the region. Politicians and intellectuals no longer look routinely under their cars for bombs and have given up on bodyguards.

For several months, Northern Ireland's peace process has been used as the template for behind the scenes discussions in Spain.

International negotiators

Earlier this week, international negotiators - including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former British prime minister Tony Blair, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan - called on ETA to declare a definitive end to violence.

"We call upon ETA to make a public declaration of the definitive cessation of all armed action," Mr Ahern said after a one-day conference, which did not include the Spanish government or the outlawed ETA.

The Basque separatist group's statement read: “ETA considers that the International Conference that has recently taken place in the Basque Country is an initiative of enormous significance.

“The agreed resolution includes all the elements for an integral solution of the conflict, and it has attained the support of a wide spectrum of the Basque society and the international community.

“A new political time is emerging in the Basque Country. We have an historical opportunity to find a just and democratic solution for the centuries old political conflict.

“Dialogue and agreement should outline the new cycle, over violence and repression. The recognition of the Basque Country and the respect for the will of the people should prevail over imposition.”

Elsewhere, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, TD, urged Spain and France to accept today's announcement of a definitive end to armed activity by armed Basque separatists ETA, and agree to talks.

Adams said that the parties involved had to focus on reconciliation, victims and healing personal and social wounds caused by the violence, while Madrid needed to take confidence-building steps.

Earlier, The US voiced caution after Basque separatists declared an end to decades of violence in Spain and said it was premature to take the ETA group off its terrorist blacklist.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined immediate comment on the video made by three hooded militants of Western Europe's last major violent secessionist group, saying it was assessing the reaction of Spain.

The US classifies ETA, which is blamed for 829 deaths, as a foreign terrorist organization, which makes it a crime in the US to provide material or financial support to the group.