Basque separatist group Eta decommissions some weapons
Move a symbolic step towards full disarmament, say inspectors
Aracelly Santana (left), Ram Manikkalingam (second left) and Chris Maccabe (right), members of the International Verification Commission, watch a televised news report about Eta disarmament alongside Dialogue Advisory Group member Michelle Gehrig in Bilbao yesterday. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters
The International Verification Commission (IVC), with which the terrorist group has been in contact since ending its campaign of violence in October 2011, made the announcement in the Basque city of Bilbao yesterday.
The IVC, a six-strong group of diplomats, politicians and political experts, described Eta’s gesture as “credible and significant”. However, the IVC has not been recognised by the Spanish government, which dismissed yesterday’s move as “more of the same” by the Basque group.
Eta killed more than 800 people in a four-decade campaign of violence aimed at securing independence for the northern Basque region.
Masked Eta members
The BBC posted on its website a video showing two masked Eta members presenting weapons to two IVC members, Ram Manikkalingam and Ronnie Kasrils. The weapons are laid out on a table and include handguns, explosive material and rounds of ammunition.
“The intention is to put the weapons out of use as a decisive step towards abandoning weapons,” said Mr Manikkalingam at the Bilbao press conference. He had an inventory of the weapons put out of use.
“A year ago the IVC took note of the significant developments in the Basque Country and made clear its intention that efforts should intensify.”
The premier of the Basque region, Íñigo Urkullu, gave a cautious welcome to yesterday’s move, which had been widely anticipated. “It’s a small step, not enough, but it covers a first and necessary phase towards total disarmament,” he said.
Mr Urkullu’s Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) supports increased autonomy for the region, but not the radicalism of Eta. He praised the IVC’s role as “trustworthy and safe”.
The weapons put out of use are believed to represent a small part of Eta’s total arsenal and the disarmament process is likely to be slow.
Many in Spain distrust Eta’s public announcements, including the conservative government.Spanish interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz described the partial disarmament as “another step in a theatrical exercise, an enactment, which Eta has been carrying out, in particular since October 20th, 2011, when it announced the end of its terrorist activity”.
The minister reiterated the government’s demand that Eta disband altogether and its refusal to recognise the IVC in the Basque peace process.
“With the police and the civil guard we have enough resources to verify the abandonment of weapons. Therefore we don’t need these international inspectors because the best inspectors are the civil guard and the police,” he said.
Eta and its political supporters have frequently called for international mediation in the Basque Country, arguing it should be handled in a similar way to the Irish peace process.
However, the governing Popular Party refuses to accept such comparisons, saying the Basque region has not suffered an armed conflict, but a one-sided terrorist campaign.