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Basque Separatist Group Surrenders Arms, Effectively Ending Nearly 50 Years of European Conflict

  • VOA News

Ram Manikkalingam, third right, president of the Verification Commission for disarmament of ETA, the Basque armed separatist group, announces delivery of ETA weapons to French authorities, surrounded by others, from left, peace activist Jean-Noel Etcheverry, Bishop Matteo Zuppi, Bayonne Mayor Jean-Rene Etchegaray, French human right lawyer Michel Tubiana and Rev. Harold Good, during a press conference in Bayonne, southwestern France, Saturday, April 8, 2017.

The Basque separatist group ETA has relinquished its last caches of weapons, effectively ending one of the longest conflicts in contemporary European history.

The International Verification Commission (IVC) confirmed Saturday that the militant group gave French authorities a list of the locations of 12 weapons caches.

"We are disarming one of the longest-surviving armed groups in the world," Ram Manikkalingam, a mediator with the IVC, told reporters in the southwestern French city of Bayonne.

Saturday's handover was handled through a series of intermediaries and celebrated by hundreds of people with a morning ceremony in Bayonne.

The weapons stockpiles could include 130 handguns and two tons of explosives, according to French authorities.

ETA, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government, has been blamed for the deaths of more than 850 people since the late 1960s in its push to carve an independent homeland out of territory in northern Spain and southwestern France.

The group has been weakened by attrition and a string of high-profile arrests in the late 1990's and 2000's. The last known murder victim of ETA, an acronym for the phrase "Basque Homeland and Liberty," was a French police officer killed in Paris in 2010.

The arms handover comes years after the separatists declared a unilateral cease-fire in 2011, but they refused to surrender or lay down their remaining weapons.

While the handover does not mean the end of the group as a political entity, it will end nearly a half-century of political violence in Western Europe.

Spain has expressed doubt, though, that ETA has disclosed all of the details about it weapons caches. Spain also has resisted negotiations that would allow dwindling members of the outlawed group or their supporters to gain legal political status in the Basque region.

Spain has demanded ETA's full dissolution, but the group has refused, in part out of allegiance to the hundreds of members who remain imprisoned in Spain.

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