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Basque separatist group ETA apologizes to victims ahead of dissolution

MADRID (Reuters) - The Basque militant group ETA on Friday apologized for the harm caused to victims and their relatives during its half-century-long violent campaign to create an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France.

FILE PHOTO: A woman watches a news program announcing the dissolution of armed Basque separatists ETA due for the first week of May, according to local television station ETB, in Guernica, April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent West

The apology comes as the group is expected to announce its final dissolution early next month, just over a year after it ended its armed separatist campaign by surrendering guns and explosives.

The group declared a ceasefire in 2011 and handed over weapons caches in April 2017, bringing a close to Western Europe’s last major armed insurgency.

“We are aware that during this long period of armed struggle we have created a lot of pain, including many damages for which there is no solution. We want to show respect for the dead, those injured and the victims that were caused by the actions of ETA (...) We truly apologise,” the group said in a statement published by Basque newspaper Gara.

“Looking forward, reconciliation is one of the tasks that has to be carried out in the Basque Country, something that is already happening between citizens. It is a needed exercise to acknowledge the truth in a constructive way, heel wounds and build up guarantees so that this suffering does not happen again,” it also said.

The Spanish government welcomed the apology and said the group had been defeated “with the weapons of democracy.”

“The victims, their memory and their dignity have been decisive in defeating ETA. ETA should have apologized for the harm caused in a sincere and unconditional way a long time ago,” the Prime Minister’s office said.

ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and Freedom) was founded in 1959 and arose from anger and frustration among Basques, who have their own language and culture, from political repression under Spain’s ruler, General Francisco Franco.

The campaign, which included political assassinations as well as bombings aimed at the general populace, escalated in the 1960s into violence that was reciprocated by the Franco dictatorship.

ETA will announce its full dissolution during the first weekend of May, Basque broadcaster ETB reported on Wednesday.

Details of the event are expected to be announced at a news conference on Monday by South African lawyer Brian Currin and other members of the International Contact Group mediating body.

Reporting by Julien Toyer; Editing by Peter Graff and Hugh Lawson