Europe’s Last Insurgency Ends As Basque Separatists Handover Weapons

French Police evacuating weapons belonging to the Eta insurgent group
French Police evacuating weapons belonging to the Eta militant group

Basque militant group Eta has begun handing over its remaining weapons, ending the last insurgency in Europe.

At a ceremony in the southern French city of Bayonne, an inventory of weapons, and their locations, was passed to the judicial authorities.

French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl hailed the move as a “major step”.

Eta killed more than 800 people in some 40 years of violence as it sought to carve out an independent country straddling Spain and France.

It declared a ceasefire in 2011 but did not disarm.

Fekl said the inventory included eight sites, and a police operation was under way to secure them.

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The caches contain 120 firearms, three tonnes of explosives and several thousand rounds of ammunition, according to a spokesman for the group which mediated between Eta and the French authorities.

The Eta militant group was set up more than 50 years ago in the era of Spanish dictator, General Franco.

Its goal was to create an independent Basque state out of territory in south-west France and northern Spain.

Its first known killing was in 1968, when a secret police chief was shot dead in the Basque city of San Sebastian.

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France and Spain refused to negotiate with Eta, which is on the EU blacklist of terrorist organisations.

The Chairman of the International Verification Commission, IVC, Ram Manikkalingam, said he hoped Saturday’s handover would help consolidate peace in the Basque region.

French police have begun checking the list of sites handed over on Saturday.

In 2014, the IVC reported that Eta had taken some of its weapons out of action, but the Spanish government dismissed the move as “theatrical”.

Eta’s first ceasefire was in 1998, but collapsed the following year.

In 2006, it made another pledge to lay down arms. That, too, proved to be illusory. In December of that year, it bombed an airport car park in Madrid, killing two people.

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Four years later, in 2010, Eta announced it would not carry out further attacks and in January 2011, it declared a permanent and “internationally verifiable” ceasefire but refused to disarm.

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 its weapons.

Eta’s political wing, Herri Batasuna, was banned by the Spanish government, which argued that the two groups were inextricably linked.