Basque group ETA gives France list of arms caches under disarmament vow

ETA has said the initiative will bring the final curtain down on its decades-long armed campaign for a separate Basque country straddling the Spanish-French border

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 8:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 10:49pm

The Basque group ETA, which has fought a long and often-bloody drive for independence, provided France with a list of arms caches on Saturday under a promise to completely disarm, a move the government called “a major step”.

ETA has said the initiative will bring the final curtain down on its decades-long armed campaign for a separate Basque country straddling the Spanish-French border.

“This stage of neutralising an arsenal of arms and explosives is a major step,” French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said.

At a press conference in the French Basque city of Bayonne earlier Saturday, a group called the International Verification Commission (IVC) confirmed that it had received a list of arms caches from intermediaries that it handed “to the French authorities”.

Eight caches of weapons containing 120 firearms and three tonnes of explosives were on the list of sites located in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques department, according to Michel Tubiana, a human-rights lawyer who is a member of a group acting as intermediary in the handover.

French police were working to identify the locations and “secure these sites and secure arms and explosives that may be found there,” Fekl said.

Founded in 1959, ETA has been blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a string of bombings and shootings dating back to 1968. Thousands more were injured.

In 2011, after a string of arrests among its senior ranks, ETA announced that it had abandoned its armed campaign. But the move did not entail disarmament.

ETA more recently sought to negotiate its dissolution in exchange for amnesties or improved prison conditions for roughly 350 of its members held in Spain and France, and for current members living under cover.

But both France and Spain have taken a firm line and refused any concessions.

The IVC, set up to monitor ETA’s 2011 ceasefire pledge, is not recognised by either the French or the Spanish governments, but its involvement is supported by the government in Spain’s autonomous Basque region.

It lists among its members Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister of intelligence in post-apartheid South Africa; Chris Maccabe, a former senior British civil servant who helped negotiate Northern Ireland’s “Good Friday” peace agreement in 1998; and General Satish Nambiar, a former deputy chief in the Indian army with experience of UN peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia.

The IVC’s spokesman, Ram Manikkalingam, a former advisor on the peace process in Sri Lanka, told the press conference in 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.

An event was planned in Bayonne for later Saturday to mark so-called “Disarmament Day”, under the theme “We are all artisans of peace.”

In Madrid, the government on Friday dismissed ETA’s disarmament as a unilateral affair and warned that the group – which it denounces as a terror organisation – could expect “nothing” in return.

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

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

The governing conservative People’s Party staged a “counter-event” late on Friday in the Basque city of Vitoria in which there was a ceremony for “the protagonists of ETA’s defeat.” Relatives of ETA victims took part.

The disarming of ETA is “a historical event,” said Arnaldo Otegi a former leader of ETA’s political wing Batasuna, stopping short of saying whether he thought the ETA would disband.

“I believe that ETA must start a debate between militants about its future,” added 58-year-old, who had been imprisoned for a kidnapping.