ETA 'gives' France authorities list of weapons caches

Basque group hands over arms after waging a deadly independence campaign for more than 50 years.

    The armed Basque separatist group ETA has formally given authorities in France information about the location of its arm stashes, according to an independent verification panel.

    ETA says its initiative will bring the final curtain down on a decades-long armed campaign to gain independence for the Basque country straddling the Spanish-French border. 

    "This information [about the arms caches] was immediately conveyed to the relevant French authorities, who will now secure and collect ETA's arsenal," the International Verification Commission (IVC), which is in charge of verifying the disarming process but is not recognised by either France or Spain, said in a statement on Saturday.

    The panel said it "believes that this step constitutes the disarmament of ETA".

    The commission's spokesman, Ram Manikkalingam, a former adviser on the Sri Lanka peace process, told reporters in the French city of Bayonne that the panel had received the list of caches via "the artisans of peace" - a French civil society group headed by an environmentalist, Txetx Etcheverry.

    French police are on standby to take possession of the weapons, officials told AFP news agency.

    Inactive for more than five years, ETA had said it would hand over its arms, a historic step following a decaes-long violent campaign that claimed more than 800 lives, mostly in Spain.

    Disarmament is the second-to-last step demanded by France and Spain, which want ETA to formally disband. The organisation has not said whether it would do that.

    "Disarming, of course isn't the same as disbanding, and we are told ETA members have gone away for a period of reflection to decide where they go from here," Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from Bilbao, said. 

    "One thing is for certain though: an armed group without arms doesn't have much point'.

    'Nothing in return'

    In Spain's capital, Madrid, the government on Saturday dismissed ETA's disarmament as a unilateral affair and warned that the group - which it denounces as a "terrorist" organisation - could expect "nothing" in return.

    "It will not reap any political advantage or profit," said Inigo Mendez de Vigo, Spain's culture minister and its government spokesman.

    "May it disarm, may it dissolve, may it ask forgiveness and help to clear up the crimes which have not been resolved," he said.

    A government source told the Reuters news agency that Madrid did not believe the group would hand over all its arms, while Spain's state prosecutor has asked the High Court to examine those surrendered for murder weapons used in unresolved cases.

    READ MORE: Basque separatist group ETA 'to disarm by April 8'

    Anger among Basques at political and cultural repression during the Spanish dictatorship of General Francisco Franco led to the founding of ETA - which in Basque stands for "Basque Country and Freedom" - in 1959.

    Following Spain's return to democracy in the 1970s, the Basque region gained more autonomy and the group's continued bombings and assassinations caused public support to wane.

    One year after its last deadly attack, the killing of a French police officer near Paris in March 2010, ETA announced it was renouncing violence.

    'Death and pain'

    Journalist Gorka Landaburu, who had written articles critical of ETA and in return got a bomb in the mail which left him blind in one eye and took a thumb off, said he believed the entire armed struggle was a waste of time.

    "It's easy to apologise - I'm not asking them to punish themselves in public. But they need to think hard about what they actually gained in 50 years," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Nothing. They just caused death and pain, even on their own side." 

    The group chose not to disarm in 2011 when it called its truce, but has been severely weakened in the past decade after hundreds of its members were arrested in joint Spanish and French operations and weapons were seized.

    In a symbolic gesture in 2014, ETA released a video showing masked members giving up a limited weapons cache to verifiers.


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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