In the most significant step it has taken toward disarmament, the Basque separatist group ETA announced on Saturday that it will disable its weapons, a move Spanish media nonetheless labelled a "farce".
In a statement dated February 24 and published in the Basque newspaper Gara, the ETA confirmed an earlier report by an International Verification Commission saying that the group had started surrendering its arms.
The 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 fact that a number of its members are currently being held in French and Spanish prisons. The group has long sought to have prisoners transferred closer to home in exchange for dissolving the movement.
The commission monitoring a ceasefire in the ETA's lengthy and violent campaign for independence released a video on February 21 showing members of the group presenting a collection of revolvers, a rifle, bullets and explosives.
"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," he 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 nor the International Verification Commission.
"We do not need these international verifiers," said Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-01