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TerrorismBasque separatist group ETA to disarm

Published 20 March 2017

On Friday, the militant separatist group ETA has announced that, by early next month, it will completely disarm, and that from that point forward it will pursue its goal of an independent or autonomous Basque region by political means. Friday’s announcement comes six years after ETA renounced the use of violence. ETA was formed in 1959, and, in 1968, launched a campaign of violence against the Spanish state. ETA’s terror campaign, which ended in 2011, killed 829 Spanish politicians, policeman, military personnel, judges – but also a number of innocent bystanders – in bombings and shootings.

The flag of the Basque seperatist movement // Source: theconversation.com

On Friday, the militant separatist group ETA has announced that, by early next month, it will completely disarm, and that from that point forward it will pursue its goal of an independent or autonomous Basque region by political means.

Friday’s announcement comes six years after ETA renounced the use of violence. ETA said that it will reveal to the Spanish authorities the locations of the group’s hidden arms stockpiles.

Txetx Etcheverry, an activist with Basque environmental group BIZI, which also favors Basque independence, told Le Monde that “ETA has handed us responsibility for the disarmament of its arsenal and, as of the evening of April 8, Eta will have completely handed over its weapons.”

The Basque region straddles the Spanish-French border, and Basque claims for autonomy or independence envision a Basque homeland which includes territories which are now parts of Spain and France.

With an eye to France, Etcheverry said the disarmament should be completed before the first round of the France’s presidential election on 23 April.

The Irish Times reports that Iñigo Urkullu, the head of the Basque regional government, said the Spanish and French security agencies had been informed of the disarmament decision, adding that ETA’s decision would be “definitive, unilateral, irrevocable, complete and legal.”

Making clear that the ETA disarmament decision did not mean that the Basques were giving up their goal of political independence, Urkullu urged the Spanish and French governments to help launch talks to achieve “a goal with historic importance for our society.”

The Spanish government reacted cautiously. “ETA has to do two things: disarm and dissolve itself,” government spokesman Iñigo Méndez de Vigo told a news conference on Friday.

He added that the Spanish government would not speculate on any potential disarmament, and would respond to how things developed on the ground.

Basque politicians welcomed ETA’s Friday announcement.

Arnaldo Otegi, a former ETA militant who is now the leader of the far-left Basque separatist party Sortu, described the decision to disarm an “exciting historical moment.”

Otegi launched Sortu last year, after spending a six-year sentence for his efforts to resurrect Batasuna, a pro-independence party which was banned by Spain because it was seen as the political wing of ETA.

“Let’s hope that this time the weapons handover will be final,” he told a news conference.

A disarmament would mark one of the last chapters in the drawn-out demise of Eta,

ETA was founded in 1959, when Spain was under the rule of Francisco Franco. Its goal has been to establish an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France. In 1968 it launched a campaign of violence against the Spanish state, which lasted until 2011, killing 829 Spanish politicians, policeman, military personnel, judges – but also a number of innocent bystanders – in bombings and shootings. The precise number of ETA victims is not known, and some scholars say it is larger than 1,000.

For the first twenty-five years of its existence, ETA did not conduct any terrorist actions in France. In fact, while Franco was still in power (he died in 1975), France allowed ETA militants to use the Basque region in southern France as a safe haven, and the French security authorities looked the other way as Basque fighters crossed the Spanish-French border back and forth.

The French attitude toward ETA began to change in the 1980s, as worries about leftist urban terrorism became more pronounced, and as democracy emerged in Spain. Beginning in the early 1990s, the French authorities began to extradite ETA militants to Spain – in response to which ETA launched several attacks on French police personnel, and issued public threats against judges presiding over extradition processes. The number of French people killed by the group, however, was small – under a dozen – and the group’s leadership was divided over whether or not to conduct operations in France.

ETA renounced the use of violence in 2011, but, until Friday, refused to hand over its arms.

yet to hand over its entire arsenal.

The renunciation of violence by ETA in 2011 did not lead the Spanish and French authorities to relax their campaign against the group. Over the past six years, the security services in Spain and France have arrested hundreds of the group’s members, and about 350 of them, including the group’s leader, are now in Spanish and French jails.