The Basque armed group ETA has made a significant step towards decommissioning the weapons used in its campaign for independence and freedom -- but the Spanish government immediately rejected the move.
The decommissioning by ETA of some its cache of weapons and explosives, drawing a definitive line under decades of bloody conflict, was confirmed by an International Verification Commission.
The commission said ETA had agreed to put out of use a selection of rifles, pistols, explosives and detonators.
“We have verified that ETA has put out of operative use a certain amount of arms and explosives,” Ram Manikkalingam, the commission chairman told a press conference in the Basque city of Bilbao. “We believe this is a credible and significant step.”
But the development was dismissed as “more of the same” and “theatrics” by the Spanish government. The Madrid government has repeatedly made clear that it wants ETA to disband and “dissolve”, and that the full surrender of the group’s arsenal must be verified by the Spanish police and military.
Jorge Fernandez Diaz, Spain’s interior minister, told a press conference in Madrid: “The only thing that Spanish society, the Spanish government and the Spanish state are working towards is the complete dissolution of ETA, without concessions and without conditions.”
The Basque nation has used armed struggle to win independence ever since the fascist Franco dictatorship violently arrogated Spanish control over most of the Basque Countries, which straddle both France and Spain.
Since 1959, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country And Freedom) evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a military group with the goal of regaining independence. But weakened by high-tech electronic infiltration, ETA declared an indefinite ceasefire in 2011. Until now, the group has refused to surrender its weapons or disband.
Madrid has said repeatedly that without these two steps it will not consider any move to improve the prison conditions for the hundreds of ETA detainees still held in Spanish government jails. Most of the 600 prisoners are vindictively held in criminal facilities located far from the Basque country.
Tens of thousands of protesters have marched through the streets of the Basque Country on behalf of the prisoners, defying Madrid’s court bans. Recent protests have also been endorsed by two of the region’s main political parties as being for “human rights, understanding and peace”.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he warmly welcomed the unilateral arms initiative by ETA announced today.
“This is a vitally important decision and a significant advance in the Basque peace process,” he said.
“I am convinced that they are serious about peace and that this is another indication of their commitment to peaceful and democratic politics.
“I also want to commend the work of the Verification Committee (the International Commission of Verification of Ceasefire in the Basque County) - which has overseen this important initiative by ETA.”
The development was, he said, “a good news story for the Basque peace process” which he said had “sought to match the success of the Irish peace process”.
“Since before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 Sinn Fein has been involved in helping to assist the building of a peace process in the Basque country. The Irish peace process is seen by many as a model - an example - of what can be achieved if there is political will.”