The Basque armed group ETA says it will disarm on Saturday, leaving down their weapons “so that Basques can continue taking steps to achieve peace and freedom for our country”.
ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning ‘Basque Country and Freedom’) spent decades fighting for an independent Basque country against the violent oppression of successive Spanish governments.
Although the region now has a level of autonomy, the Basque country continues to be largely ruled from Madrid, with a section in the east under French control.
The group declared a ceasefire in 2011 but did not disarm. Spain said it would continue to refuse to negotiate with them, denouncing them as “terrorists”.
The peace move came in a week in which details emerged of top-ranking Spanish civil guards and police who were supposedly sanctioned in the 1980s and 1990s for torturing suspected members of ETA, but who then went on to be promoted to the top of those forces.
Speaking on Friday, Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said ETA “will get nothing from a democratic state like Spain” and called for the organisation to hand over those who had engaged in armed struggle.
The ETA letter, dated 7 April, says that “after giving up all its weaponry (arms and explosives) to Basque civil society representatives [ETA] now is a disarmed organisation”.
But further on it warns that “the process is not completed” and “‘disarmament day’ is tomorrow”.
“We want to warn that still the process can be attacked by the enemies of peace. The only real guarantee to succeed are the thousands of people gathering tomorrow in Bayonne [south-western France] supporting the disarmament.”
The letter says it is now up to Basque “civil society” to “achieve peace and freedom”. It also suggested the possibility of unnamed future concessions, particularly the long-sought transfer of many of almost 400 jailed members to prisons nearer their families.
A key figure in ETA’s move away from violence is believed to be the leader of the pro-independence Sortu party, Arnaldo Otegi, who has links to Sinn Fein and attended the funeral last month of former Six County deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
There have been expressions of support from Spanish parties across the political spectrum, but not the party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Large numbers of people from the Basque regions of Spain and France are expected to attend a symbolic day of events on Saturday in connection with the disarmament.
“We have the political and technical responsibility for ETA’s disarmament, and it has been done,” said Txetx Etcheverry, a Basque environmentalist.
“ETA has handed over its weapons to civil society. They are on French soil,” he said.
Etcheverry said weapons experts attached to the verifivcation body would carry out a series of checks tomorrow. A public event is planned in the French Basque city of Bayonne tomorrow to mark “Disarmament Day”.
“Disarmament does not mean peace,” Etcheverry said. “The French and Spanish government must help to resolve all the consequences of this conflict.”
The following is the text of the letter by ETA:
ETA, Basque Socialist Revolutionary Organization for National Liberation informs International community that after giving up all its weaponry (arms and explosives) to Basque civil society representatives it is now is a disarmed organisation.
This has been a hard and difficult task consequence of all obstacles put by Spanish an French States along the path, who still persist in a winners and losers scheme, stubborn with a police solution.
Fortunately, civil society took a step forward, and taking political and technical ownership of the disarmament process, have made a decisive contribution to unblock a situation very close to entrench. We want also to highlight the support given by Basque institutions.
The process is not completed. “Disarmament day” is tomorrow and we want to warn that still the process can be attacked by the enemies of peace. The only real guarantee to succeed are the thousands of people gathering tomorrow in Bayonne supporting the disarmament.
We took up arms for the Basque people and now we live them in their hands so that Basques can continue taking steps to achieve peace and freedom for our country; because to advance on the agenda of solutions we need to commit ourselves.
GORA EUSKAL HERRIA ASKATUTA! GORA EUSKAL HERRIA SOZIALISTA! JO TA KE INDEPENDENTZIA ETA SOZIALISMOA LORTU ARTE!
[Freedom for the Basque Country! Socialism for the Basque Country! Onward until independence and socialism!]
Basque Country, 7th of April 2017
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna E.T.A.