The Basque group ETA has announced it will put its arsenal of weapons “under seal” and “out of operational use”, in a move towards disarmament by Western Europe’s last major violent separatist movement.
In a statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara, dated February 24, the ETA confirmed an earlier announcement by international monitors that the group had begun giving up its arms, the AFP news agency reported.
The separatist group said the gesture would create a climate of “security” in the Basque Country and clear the way for a solution dealing with “all the consequences of the political conflict”.
The ETA appeared to be referring to the imprisonment of its members in French and Spanish prisons. The group has long sought the transfer of these prisoners closer to home as a condition of negotiating its disbandment.
A commission monitoring a ceasefire in ETA’s decades-long campaign on February 21 released a video of black-masked members of the group presenting revolvers, a rifle, bullets and explosives to inspectors.
“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 reporters 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,” the Sri Lankan spokesman said.
Spain’s conservative government shrugged off the move by ETA, which is classed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.
It does not recognise Manikkalingam and his International Verification Commission.
“We do not need these international verifiers,” said Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the interior minister.
Spanish media derided the move as a “farce” and said the cache surrendered was ludicrously small.
“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,” said Manikkalingam.
ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.
The Spanish and French governments refuse to negotiate with ETA, which has been weakened over recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders in the two countries.
Only about 30 of its active members are thought to be still at large.
In October 2011 it announced a “definitive end to armed activity” but refused to formally disarm and disband.