Eta hands over information on location of weapons

Madrid wants the Basque separatist group to formally dissolve as well as disarming

Basque  independence politician Juan Mari Olano  at rally in Bayonne, France, following the announcement. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

Basque independence politician Juan Mari Olano at rally in Bayonne, France, following the announcement. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

 

Eta has handed over information to the French authorities about its remaining weapons arsenal, a largely symbolic step that comes six years after the violent Basque separatist group declared an end to the “armed struggle”.

The handover – made through a series of intermediaries – was marked with a ceremony in the southern city of Bayonne on Saturday morning.

Founded in the late 1950s, Eta said it was fighting for the independence of Spain’s Basque country. Its campaign of bombings and assassinations claimed the lives of 845 people, including several prominent Spanish politicians.

Weakened by a series of high-profile arrests and increasingly isolated even in separatist Basque circles, the group declared a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire in 2011.

Ram Manikkalingam, the chairman of an international verification commission, described Eta’s latest move as “historic”. He said he had received information about the location of weapons from a “civil society representative” and passed on the locations to the French authorities.

The Spanish government does not recognise the international verification commission, and has in the past voiced scepticism about any involvement by third-party mediators.

Saturday’s weapons handover – if confirmed by the authorities – marks a potentially important step towards the definitive end of Eta. But it still falls short of longstanding demands from the Spanish government and from victims’ groups. Madrid wants Eta to not only fully disarm but also to formally dissolve.

In addition, the Spanish authorities want Eta to provide information about unresolved killings that they believe were carried out by Eta operatives.

For their part, Eta leaders and Basque political activists close to the group have long demanded that Madrid change its policy towards Eta prisoners, many of whom are held in jails far from the Basque country.

But Spanish officials have long insisted that they will only consider moving Eta prisoners back to their homeland once its two main conditions – disarmament and dissolution – are met.

A government spokesman said on Friday that Madrid’s position was unchanged, and that Eta should expect no “benefit” from the forthcoming handover. “They must disarm and they must dissolve,” the spokesman said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017