Basque militant separatist group ETA set to announce disarmament

MADRID (Reuters) - Basque militant separatist group ETA are set to announce plans to disarm and have scheduled a full handover of weapons for April 8, six years after declaring a permanent ceasefire, France’s Le Monde newspaper reported on Friday.

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Several Basque political leaders, including the leader of the regional government, said news of a final possible weapons handover was credible.

A disarmament would mark one of the last chapters in the drawn-out demise of ETA, which formed in the 1950s during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco with the aim of establishing an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.

ETA, which killed more than 800 people over several decades through bombings and assassinations, called a unilateral ceasefire in 2011.

It has only handed in part of its arsenal so far, though the group was also severely weakened in recent years after hundreds of its members, including its leader, were arrested and police seized several of its weapons stashes.

“ETA has handed us responsibility for the disarmament of its arsenal and, as of the evening of April 8, ETA will have completely handed over its weapons,” Txetx Etcheverry, an activist with environmental campaign group Bizi, which favors Basque independence, was quoted as saying in Le Monde.

ETA has tried on several occasions to negotiate a disarmament with the Spanish and French governments, which have refused to deal with the group but have urged it to hand over its arsenal.

“ETA has to do two things: disarm and dissolve itself,” Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told a news conference on Friday. He said the government would not speculate on any potential disarmament.

Other politicians welcomed signs that a handover was nearing.

“The Basque government will do everything in its power to make sure this goes according to plan, even if not everything is in our hands,” said regional leader Inigo Urkullu. He said the Basque government had been informed of a possible weapons handover.

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of far-left Basque pro-independence party EH Bildu, said the disarmament was an “exciting historical moment”. Otegi was released from prison last year after a six-year sentence for belonging to an armed group.

“Let’s hope that this time the weapons handover will be final,” a smiling Otegi told a news conference.

Reporting by Sarah White and Inmaculada Sanz; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Toby Davis