February 22, 2018 / 3:21 PM / in 3 months

Basque separatist group ETA to vote on full dissolution by summer

MADRID (Reuters) - Leaders of Basque separatist militant group ETA are asking its members to vote on whether it should dismantle itself completely by the summer, it said in a statement in newspaper Gara.

FILE PHOTO: A municipal worker paints over graffiti reading "ETA, The People Are With You" in Guernica October 21, 2011, the day after Basque separatist group ETA announced a definitive cessation of armed activity. Spanish Basque armed separatists ETA have called a definitive end to 50 years of armed struggle which has cost the lives of at least 850 people, the band said in a statement published in Basque language newspaper Gara. REUTERS/Vincent West/File Photo

ETA, which killed more than 850 people during a campaign to carve out an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France, is practically inactive after it handed over arms in April to end nearly half a century of separatist violence.

With the help of mediators, it led French authorities to caches of weapons, explosives and ammunition. It had declared a ceasefire in 2011.

FILE PHOTO: Three members of Basque separatist group ETA call for a definitive end to 50 years of armed struggle, which has cost the lives of at least 850 people, in this still image taken from an undated video published on the website of Basque language newspaper Gara October 20, 2011. REUTERS/Gara/Handout/File Photo

The dissolution vote follows months of internal debate, said Gara, a Basque regional newspaper though which ETA usually releases its statements. Most of the group’s members are serving time in prison.

FILE PHOTO - A woman walks in front of a wall painted with a Basque flag on a house in the center of Bayonne, southwestern France, April 7, 2017. Words read: "The People want to live". REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

“The end of the cycle is increasingly evident, and as a result of decisions that were made, it has already occurred to a great extent,” the statement said, without making clear how a definitive dissolution would be carried out.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Thursday in a Twitter post that statements were not enough, and he called on ETA to dissolve completely and apologize to victims.

Spain, a country of strong regional identities, is currently grappling with a peaceful separatist movement in Catalonia, which has divided the northeastern region and triggered one of the country’s worst political crises since the end of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975.

ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and Freedom) was founded in 1959 out of anger among Basques at political and cultural repression under Franco.

The group gained notoriety as one of Europe’s most deadly separatist groups. Its first known victim was a secret police chief in San Sebastian in 1968 and its last a French policeman shot in 2010.

It became gradually weaker over the past decade after hundreds of its members were arrested and weapons seized in joint Spanish and French operations.

Reporting By Raquel Castillo and Jesús Aguado; editing by Sonya Dowsett and John Stonestreet

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