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France

Basque separatists ETA set to disarm

media Pro-ETA graffiti is painted over in the Basque city of Guernica in Spain in 2011. Reuters/Vincent West

The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) has announced it will disarm on Saturday, a move that will bring an end to decades of violence in the Basque regions of south-western France and northern Spain.

“'Disarmament day' is tomorrow, and we want to warn that the process can still be attacked by the enemies of peace,” the group said in a letter published by the BBC on Friday.

In the letter, the ETA said it had abandoned “all its weaponry to Basque civil society representatives,” affirming it had become “a disarmed organisation”.

The Basque separatist group writes that laying down arms has been “a hard and difficult task,” and that France and Spain have been “stubborn” during the process.

The ETA, active in the Basque regions of south-western France and northern Spain, has been responsible for bombings and shootings spanning decades in their fight for independence, which left hundreds dead. It is still considered a terrorist group by the European Union (EU).

The announcement comes after Inigo Urkullu, the head of the regional Basque government, announced last month that the group had decided to fully lay down its arms by the beginning of April. At the time, he had urged the French and Spanish governments to “show ambitious vision and open direct lines of communication” with the separatist group.

'Turn the page'

The city of Bayonne, in the French Basque region, will be the centre of the disarmament process, according to the ETA. Hundreds are expected to gather there on Saturday for the event, where so-called “peacemakers” from French civil society are supposed to hand over the weapons on behalf of the ETA.

However, a source close to ETA has said that negotiations regarding how the arsenal will transfer hands are still ongoing. French authorities estimate that 130 handguns and two tonnes of explosives are concerned, according to AFP.

“This disarmament is essential to definitively turn the page on violence in the Basque country, but it must nevertheless be carried out in full respect of the rule of law,” said the Basque region’s French Socialist senator, Frederique Espagnac.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoidi said on Wednesday there “would be no negotiations or concessions” to ETA members in exchange for disarmament, as reported by AFP. Madrid has long opposed the group, and has demanded it “dissolve” entirely.

It has taken six years since the ETA announced the “definitive cessation” of its campaign of violence in 2011 to fully disarm.

The group was founded in the 1950s under the rule of General Franco in Spain. Its first known planned assassination in 1968 was that of Meliton Manzanas, a member of Spain’s secret police, who was shot dead in the Basque city of San Sebastian.

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