Basque group Eta announces disarmament plan

News comes five years after ending of separatist terror campaign

Masked members of the Basque separatist group Eta hold up their fists in unison in this 2011 file photograph taken at an unknown location. Photograph: AP Photo/Gara via AP

Masked members of the Basque separatist group Eta hold up their fists in unison in this 2011 file photograph taken at an unknown location. Photograph: AP Photo/Gara via AP

 

Basque separatist organisation Eta has announced plans to disarm fully, more than five years after formally ending its campaign of violence.

“Eta has given us the responsibility of decommissioning its weapons and, on the afternoon of April 8, Eta will be completely disarmed,” Jean Noël Etcheverry, a member of the Bizi pro-independence environmentalist group, told Le Monde newspaper. Mr Etcheverry is one of several intermediaries involved in the process.

The news was confirmed on Friday by Arnaldo Otegi, leader of EH Bildu, the Basque separatist coalition which is seen as the successor to Eta’s political wing. The announcement was “totally genuine and credible”, Mr Otegi said in a press conference.

“We believe this is what [the Basque Country] is asking for, we believe that from a moral standpoint we can make a call for everybody to rise to this historic moment, this challenge before us, the great window of opportunity that this country is being offered so that disarmament takes place in a short period of time,” Mr Otegi said.

Eta killed more than 800 Spaniards during a four-decade terrorist campaign for an independent Basque state. However, police intelligence and increased anti-terror co-operation between Spanish and French authorities severely weakened the group, which has not killed in Spain since 2009.

In 2011, Eta announced a definitive ceasefire, but while the ensuing peace has ushered in a new era in the Basque region, it has not been consolidated by any kind of follow-up process or state-sponsored reconciliation.

Eta’s disarmament, meanwhile, has long been anticipated.

In February 2014, Eta attempted to instigate a decommissioning process, handing over a small cache of weapons to a group of international verifiers. However, the Spanish government dismissed the move as “a theatrical exercise” and refused to participate.

In December 2016, French police seized 46 guns and two grenades belonging to the group. Five people who had apparently been planning to help Eta put the weapons out of use were arrested in the raid.

One of those held was Mr Etcheverry, who made Friday’s announcement.

With security forces having seized much of Eta’s arsenal already, its remaining weapons cache is believed to be relatively small and it has few members at large. High court judge Javier Zaragoza said last year that no more than 20 active members of the organisation are in hiding.

While the conservative Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy has long called on Eta to disarm and disband, it is likely to reject Mr Otegi’s call for international involvement in the process.

On Friday, government spokesman Íñigo Méndez de Vigo reacted coolly to the news, saying that “Eta has to do two things: disarm and disband”.

Eta and its political supporters have long believed the Basque situation should be handled in a similar way to the Irish peace process. However, the government refuses to accept such comparisons, insisting that the Basque region has not suffered an armed conflict, but rather a one-sided terrorist campaign.