In a historic move, Basque separatist group ETA has announced that it will disarm, putting its arsenal of weapons “under seal” and “out of operational use”.
The group released a statement in the Basque newspaper Gara confirming it had already begun giving up its arms.
Considered a terrorist movement by the United States and European Union, ETA is the last major violent separatist organisation in Europe.
Now, a commission monitoring a ceasefire in ETA’s decades-long campaign of violence has released a video of masked members of the group submitting revolvers, a rifle, bullets and explosives to a monitor.
“The commission has verified that ETA has sealed and put beyond operational use a specified quantity of arms, ammunition and explosives,” the body’s spokesman, Ram Manikkalingam, told press in the Spanish Basque city of Bilbao.
“The commission is confident that this step is significant and credible. We believe that it will lead to the putting beyond operational use of all ETA’s arms, ammunition and explosives,” he added.
The group announced a “definitive end to armed activity” in October 2011, but refused to formally disarm and disband.
According to ETA, the act of disarming is intended to create an atmosphere of “security” in the region as well opening the door to a resolution of “all the consequences of the political conflict.”
The “conflict” ETA referred to appears to be the imprisonment of its members in French and Spanish prisons. For a long time, the faction cited their transfer to prisons closer to home as a condition for negotiating its disbandment.
But Spain’s conservative government has dismissed the move to disarm. It does not recognise ETA’s spokesman or his International Verification Commission.
Interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said:
“We do not need these international verifiers.”
The Spanish media scorned the move, calling it a “farce” and saying the cache handed over was ridiculously small.
However, Manikkalingam brushed off the criticism:
“The quantity of arms, I think, is partly the result of the fact that they had to do this under clandestine conditions, so I don’t think it’s insignificant at all,” he said.
ETA has seen its numbers deplete over recent years due to the arrests of its senior leaders in France and Spain.
There are thought to be around 30 active members.
In a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings, ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people. The organisation claims to be fighting for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.
But, both the Spanish and French governments refuse to negotiate with the group.