Eta: Basque separatists 'begin weapons handover'

Eta militants - file pic, undatedImage copyright
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Eta militants: Franco-Spanish police co-operation has led to many arrests

Basque militant group Eta has begun the process of handing over arms in southern France, ahead of full disarmament announced for Saturday.

Basque environmentalist Txetx Etcheverry said that some weapons had already been handed in.

But he provided no other details to the AFP news agency about the transfer or what arms had been handed over, arguing that such details were “confidential”.

Eta says it will hand over all its weapons and explosives.

Eta killed more than 800 people and wounded thousands in over 40 years of violence aimed at Basque independence.

The group declared a ceasefire in 2011 but did not disarm. Spain refuses to negotiate with Eta.

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Demonstrations took place on the eve of the handover on Friday

Sources in Spain told news agency AFP that the separatist group were believed to have provided details to French authorities on the whereabouts of its arms hideaways.

The pledge to disarm came in a letter obtained by the BBC, confirming earlier reports about Eta disarmament plans.

The 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.

“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 [Saturday] in Bayonne [south-western France] supporting the disarmament.”

Speaking on Friday, Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Eta “will get nothing from a democratic state like Spain”.

He demanded that the group not only disarm, but also clarify who carried out past Eta attacks.

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The Eta letter says it is now up to Basque “civil society” to “achieve peace and freedom”

Read the text of the Eta letter in English here and in Spanish here.

In recent years police in France and Spain have put Eta under severe pressure, arresting hundreds of militants, including leadership figures, and seizing many of the group’s weapons.

A key figure in Eta’s move away from violence is believed to be the leader of the pro-independence Basque left, Arnaldo Otegi, who has served several jail terms for his links to the organisation. However, some Eta prisoners criticised him last year for compromising too much on their behalf.

Spanish media have speculated that Eta may not have many weapons left, after so many successful police operations.

Eta was set up more than 50 years ago in the era of Spanish dictator General Franco. Its first known killing was in 1968, when a secret police chief, Meliton Manzanas, was shot dead in the Basque city of San Sebastian.

In 2014 the International Verification Commission of international inspectors said Eta had put some of its weapons out of action, but the Spanish government dismissed the move as “theatrical”.

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