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SPAIN

Basque separatists ETA announce it has ‘completely dissolved’

Ander Gillenea, AFP | Graffiti representing the logo of the Basque separatist group ETA in the northern Spanish village of Bermeo on March 30, 2017.
4 min

Basque separatist group ETA has announced it is fully disbanding, marking the definitive end to its deadly independence campaign and to western Europe's last armed insurgency.

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Created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, ETA waged more then four decades of attacks, killings and kidnappings in its fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France, leaving at least 829 dead.

"ETA has decided to declare its historical cycle and functions terminated, putting an end to its journey," the group said in a letter published Wednesday by Spanish online newspaper El Diario.

"ETA has completely dissolved all of its structures and declared an end to its political initiative."

The letter was dated April 16 and addressed to various groups and figures involved in recent peace efforts, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, a Basque regional government representative told AFP.

He expected ETA to make a further direct declaration of its disbandment on Thursday, probably in a video.

International mediators are then organising a peace conference in southwest France on May 4.

What now?

Weakened in recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders, ETA announced a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and began formally surrendering its arms last year.

But as it turns the page, the delicate balancing act of healing and remembering takes over.

As more and more ETA prisoners are released from jail, nationalists say reintegration into society is a necessary step towards lasting peace and reconciliation.

They argue that those still in jail should be transferred to prisons closer to home, rather than kept hundreds of kilometres away.

Some 300 ETA members are imprisoned in Spain, France and Portugal and up to 100 are still on the run, according to Forum Social, a group close to prisoners' families.

Northern Ireland's Gerry Adams, the former head of Sinn Fein -- once the political wing of the Irish Republican Army -- called on Spain and France to build on ETA's "initiatives" in a statement published ahead of his trip to Friday's peace conference.

"Progress in respect of the treatment of Basque prisoners would be enormously helpful," he said.

But Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido retorted Wednesday that "they will not obtain a thing for making a declaration they call a dissolution."

Many ETA victims or relatives say the separatist group should first and foremost condemn their history of violence and shed light on more than 350 unsolved crimes.

"This is not the end of ETA we wanted," Consuelo Ordonez, head of the Covite victims' association, said Wednesday at a gathering in San Sebastian, the Basque city most hit by ETA attacks.

And a partial apology by the separatist group last month in which it acknowledged the harm done and apologised to some of its victims -- but not to those it considered legitimate such as police -- has left a sour aftertaste.

Remembering

There is also increasing concern in the region over how to remember the decades of violence.

Critics charge that Basque pro-independence parties such as Sortu, which includes among its ranks people once part of or linked to ETA, are trying to impose their own version of events.

Separatists argue that Basques have been repressed for decades, even centuries, by Spain and France. The conflict came to a head under Franco who forbade the use of the Basque language in public -- cue ETA and its struggle against authority.

In its statement, ETA stressed this was not the end of "the Basque Territories' conflict with Spain and France."

Victims and historians, though, insist ETA was a terrorist group that went on killing even after Spain transitioned to democracy in the late 1970s. It is recognised as such by the European Union.

But apart from ETA victims, there were also separatists killed by far-right groups and death squads backed by members of Spain's security forces.

According to a December report commissioned by the Basque regional government, more than 4,100 complaints of police torture were made between 1960 and 2014.

Those victims are also demanding this too be acknowledged.

"If you don't recognise part of the suffering, it's very difficult to create conditions for... reconciliation," says Ane Muguruza, 28. Her father Josu -- a lawmaker for Herri Batasuna, ETA's political wing -- was murdered in 1989 by far-right militants she believes were state-backed.

"It's very difficult when wounds are still open."

(AFP)

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