France - - Nouvelles -

The Basque sep­a­ratist group ETA has be­gun hand­ing over its weapons to the French au­thor­i­ties, as part of its pledge to dis­arm fol­low­ing a long and bloody drive for in­de­pen­dence for an area strad­dling France and Spain.

The group gave the French po­lice a list of 12 arms caches across the Pyrénées-At­lan­tiques dé­parte­ment, where au­thor­i­ties un­cov­ered three tonnes of ex­plo­sives, 120 firearms and sev­eral thou­sand rounds of am­mu­ni­tion.

ETA’S move to give up its ar­se­nal was de­scribed by the French Prime Min­is­ter, Bernard Cazeneuve, as “a de­ci­sive step to­wards the end of Basque sep­a­rate ter­ror­ism”. ETA de­clared a cease­fire in 2011 but only an­nounced its dis­ar­ma­ment a few days be­fore re­veal­ing the lo­ca­tion of the arms.

The de­vel­op­ment was cel­e­brated in the south­ern French bor­der town of Bay­onne, where an es­ti­mated 20,000 peo­ple took to the streets in a rally chant­ing the slo­gan “We are all ar­ti­sans of peace.”

Jac­ques Pavlovski, an 86-year-old for­mer jour­nal­ist who cov­ered the ETA cam­paign, de­scribed the group’s de­ci­sion to give up their weapons as “a day for us all to be free,” and added that “the Basque Coun­try must live in peace.”

Founded in 1959, the sep­a­ratist group has been blamed for the deaths of more than 800 peo­ple in bomb­ings and shoot­ings in its at­tempts to cre­ate a Basque state in north-west Spain and south-west France. It has been de­scribed as the last in­sur­gency in Western Europe.

More re­cently, ETA had been try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate its dis­ar­ma­ment in ex­change for amnesties for 350 of its mem­bers jailed in Spain and France, around 100 of whom are serv­ing more than ten years.

How­ever, the Span­ish and French gov­ern­ments have re­fused to ne­go­ti­ate and have of­fered ETA no con­ces­sions. The Euro­pean Union still con­sid­ers it to be a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Mr Cazeneuve added that “whether the dis­ar­ma­ment is, ef­fec­tively, to­tal will also be estab­lished.” The Span­ish govern­ment said ETA’S re­cent ac­tions were not enough and that it “needs to an­nounce its de­fin­i­tive dis­so­lu­tion, to apol­o­gise to its vic­tims and to dis­ap­pear.”

ABOVE: Thou­sands at­tended a rally in Bay­onne af­ter ETA agreed to hand over its weapons

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