BASQUE SEPARATISTS BEGIN ARMS HANDOVER
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