June 15, 2013 / 9:43 PM / 6 years ago

Separatist ETA exiles ask for Spain to drop charges against them

BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) - Exiled members of ETA called on Saturday for Spain to drop pending proceedings against them, allowing them to return home, after the Basque separatist group abandoned 50 years of armed struggle.

At a gathering of around 2,000 people in Biarritz, in the French Basque country, ETA members who fled Spain over recent decades demanded that exiles be pardoned.

Basque citizens’ association Lokarri said the act underscored the finality of ETA’s decision in October 2011 to give up an armed struggle that caused more than 800 deaths.

Paul Rios, a spokesman for Lokarri, described dealing with exiles as a key measure to ensure a lasting peace process.

“We know other peace processes, like that of Ireland, and how a failure to properly resolve this situation has created problems for the future,” he said.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or Basque Homeland and Freedom, is an independence movement dating back to the late 1950s.

Spain’s centre-right government has repeatedly called for its dissolution, without conditions.

On Friday, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez said ETA had been defeated but that there would be no impunity for members wanted in Spain.

“Anyone with pending charges against them will be arrested and dealt with by the law,” he said.

Representatives of the exiles called for all pending legal proceedings or arrest warrants based on declarations extracted under torture to be abandoned, and for Spain to shelve cases that should already have expired under the law.

Jose Felix Azurmendi, a Basque journalist who lived in Venezuela for 10 years after fleeing during Spain’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, said the return of exiled ETA members was a step forward for the group as it gives up its armed fight.

He said ETA had given exiles permission to approach consulates abroad and request Spanish passports.

“They are adapting to an irreversible situation,” he said.

Additional reporting by Iciar Reilein in Madrid; Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Andrew Roche

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