Basque separatist group Eta begins arms handover

Surrender of weapons expected to end group’s four decades of armed struggle

Basque Separatists ETA members announcing a ‘permanent, verifiable ceasefire’ in 2011. Photograph: Alfredo Aldai/EPA

Basque Separatists ETA members announcing a ‘permanent, verifiable ceasefire’ in 2011. Photograph: Alfredo Aldai/EPA

 

Basque militant group Eta has handed a list of eight arms caches to the French police through intermediaries, sources close to the matter told Reuters on Saturday.

The surrender of its weapons is expected to end the group’s more than four decades of armed struggle that gained it notoriety as one of Europe’s most intractable separatist movements.

The hidden caches could include about 130 handguns and two tonnes of explosives, according to French anti-terrorism experts.

The orchestrated handover in the French city of Bayonne will not dissolve the group, which declared a ceasefire in 2011 after killing more than 850 people during a campaign for an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France.

Anger among Basques at political and cultural repression under General Francisco Franco led to the founding of Eta (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and Freedom) in 1959.

Following Spain’s return to democracy in the 1970s, the Basque region gained more autonomy and the group’s continued bombings and assassinations caused public support to wane.

Victims

Eta’s first known victim was a secret police chief killed in San Sebastian in 1968. Its last was a French policeman the group shot in 2010.

A year later it chose not to disarm when it called its truce, but has been severely weakened in the past decade after hundreds of its members were arrested in joint Spanish and French operations and weapons were seized.

In a symbolic gesture in 2014, Eta released a video showing masked members giving up a limited weapons cache to verifiers.

The remaining arsenal, while difficult to keep track of, probably contains hundreds of guns and much more explosive material, “maybe 20, 100 times more” than was consigned in the symbolic handover, says Paddy Woodworth, journalist and author of Dirty War, Clean Hands, a book about Eta.

The group’s first revolutionary gesture was to fly the banned ‘ikurrina’, the red and green Basque flag, before the campaign escalated in the 1960s into violence that was brutally reciprocated by the Franco regime.

In 1973, Eta targeted Franco’s heir apparent Luis Carrero Blanco by digging a tunnel under the road that he drove down daily to attend Mass.

They packed the tunnel with explosives and blasted Blanco’s car over a five-storey building, killing him instantly.

The assassination changed the course of history, as the removal of Franco’s successor led to the exiled king reclaiming the throne and Spain’s progress to a constitutional monarchy.

At the peak of the violence, attacks including a 1987 car bomb at a Barcelona supermarket, which killed 21 including a pregnant woman and two children, horrified Spaniards and drew international outrage.

Eta called a permanent ceasefire in March 2006, but it was shattered by a massive bomb attack at a parking lot at Madrid airport that December which killed two Ecuadorian immigrants.

Eta victim Gorka Landaburu, who lost his thumb and was left blind in one eye after a letter bomb detonated in his home in 2001, welcomed the disarmament and said lessons had been learned.

“This must never happen again in our country,” he said, standing by the sea in the Basque resort of San Sebastian.

“I hope no one ever picks up pistols and bombs to defend an ideology ever again.”

Reuters