Basque separatists agree to lay down arms after 43-year fight

ETA is an acronym meaning  Basque Homeland and Freedom. Picture: AP
ETA is an acronym meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom. Picture: AP
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The Basque separatist group ETA says it has given up its entire arsenal of weapons and explosives to civil society groups – but warns the disarmament process isn’t formally complete.

“After giving up all its weaponry (arms and explosives) to Basque civil society representatives, it is now a disarmed organisation,” the militant group said in a letter published by the BBC on its website.

The letter, dated Friday and signed with ETA’s seal, is the group’s first public communique in more than five years, since it gave up the violence it waged to achieve an independent Basque state in southern France and northern Spain.

The communication is a finishing touch to a 43-year violent campaign that claimed 829 lives, mostly in Spain.

Disarmament is the second-to-last step demanded by France and Spain, which want ETA to formally disband. The organisation hasn’t said if it will do that.

While disarmament is a crucial step to ending the Basque conflict, it remains to be seen whether the gradual fade-out on one of the Europe’s last standing violent nationalist conflicts can help heal the decades-old social divisions it caused in Spain and its northern Basque region.

There’s also an issue of what to do with the hundreds of jailed ETA members and the handful still on the run. Hundreds of killings also remain unsolved and the arms could help lead to some of the perpetrators.

A group of activists self-appointed as “peace artisans” had already announced a disarmament strategy in southwestern France but ETA had not confirmed it directly.

Two of the mediators said they considered ETA’s statement legitimate. Both spoke anonymously given the sensitivity of the issue.

Spain and France consider ETA to have been defeated, and refuse to engage in the disarmament process. They demand ETA disband permanently.

In the letter, ETA accuses both governments of being “stubborn” and persisting in a “winners and losers scheme”. It also warns that the disarmament could still be derailed.

“We want to warn that still the process can be attacked by the enemies of peace,” ETA says, calling Saturday “disarmament day”.

“The only real guarantee to succeed are the thousands of people gathering tomorrow in Bayonne supporting the disarmament,” the group adds, referring to the south-western French town where thousands of pro-Basque independence supporters are expected to take part in a demonstration to cap the disarmament.

Experts view the disarmament as symbolic, saying ETA’s arsenal had already been diminished, with much of it obsolete.

Earlier on Thursday, the Basque regional parliament also called for a disarmament to be “unilateral, complete, definitive and verified”.

ETA’s name is a Basque-language acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom. It emerged in the late 1950s during the dictatorship of Gen Francisco Franco, which repressed Basque and other cultures in Spain.

The group’s stated aim was to form an independent state from Basque areas on both sides of the Pyrenees. Basques have a distinct culture and an ancient language, Euskara.