Basque separatist group ETA vows to disarm but seeks prisoner deal
The Basque group ETA has announced it will put its arsenal of weapons "out of operational use" in a first step by the considerably weakened separatist group towards an historic disarmament.
More than two years after announcing a "definitive end to armed activity", the gesture by western Europe's last major violent separatist movement to officially disarm have been met with shrugs in Spain, which wants it to disband without conditions.
"The process of putting the arms under seal has begun and ETA has committed itself to carry out the process down to the last weapon," read a statement published in Saturday's Basque newspaper Gara.
The group said the gesture would create a climate of "security" in the Basque region and clear the way for a solution dealing with "all the consequences of the political conflict".
ETA also called for an "urgent end of the violation of the rights of Basque political prisoners". It was referring to the imprisonment of 500 members in French and Spanish prisons. The group has long sought the transfer of these prisoners closer to home as a condition for negotiating its disbandment. The issue is a key sticking point on which Madrid refuses to budge.
Over recent months ETA members have tried to gain concessions from the Spanish government over prison conditions, outraging victims' families.
The communique confirms an earlier announcement by international ceasefire monitors that the group had begun giving up its arms.
The International Verification Commission on February 21 released a video of black-masked members of the group presenting to monitors revolvers, a rifle, bullets and explosives. Madrid does not recognise the five-member commission.
"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, said in the Basque city of Bilbao.
Spain's ruling Popular Party's number two Maria Dolores de Cospedal said ETA should "stop the grandstanding and just dissolve once and for all".
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. It is classed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. It has been weakened in recent years by the arrest of its senior leaders.