SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — Basque separatist group ETA has announced it is fully disbanding, marking the definitive end to its deadly independence campaign and to western Europe’s last armed insurgency.
Created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, ETA waged more than four decades of killings and kidnappings in its fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France, leaving at least 829 dead.
"ETA has decided to declare its historical cycle and functions terminated, putting an end to its journey," the group said in a letter published on Wednesday by Spanish online newspaper El Diario.
"ETA has completely dissolved all of its structures and declared an end to its political initiative."
Dated April 16, the letter was addressed to various groups and figures involved in recent peace efforts, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, said a Basque regional government representative.
He expected ETA to make a further filmed declaration of its disbandment on Thursday, before a peace conference in southwest France on May 4.
Weakened in recent years by the arrests of its leaders in France, ETA announced a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and began formally surrendering its arms last year.
Some of its killings were especially traumatic for Spaniards, like that of Miguel Angel Blanco, a 29-year-old conservative councillor who was kidnapped in 1997, which marked a turning point in the fight against ETA.
After being held for 48-hours, he was shot twice in the back of the head.
Shouting "murderers", hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Spain and the movement "Basta ya", or "That’s Enough," was born.
On Wednesday, Basques welcomed news of ETA’s dissolution.
"It’s great news," said Miguel, a 51-year-old butcher in San Sebastian, the seaside resort worst hit by ETA.
"We suffered a lot from terrorism for many years, and without reason."
As that page of history closes, though, the delicate balancing act of healing and remembering takes over.
While an overwhelming majority of Basques welcome the end of violence, many still want independence, with separatist coalition EH Bildu the second largest grouping in the regional parliament.
"It’s the end of the armed struggle, but it’s about continuing the same fight through different means," says Josian, who works for a gas company, on the rainy streets of seaside resort San Sebastian, the city worst hit by ETA.
With more and more ETA prisoners released from jail, nationalists say reintegration into society is a necessary step towards lasting peace and reconciliation.
They argue that those still in jail should be transferred to prisons closer to home, rather than kept hundreds of kilometres away.
Some 300 ETA members are imprisoned in Spain, France and Portugal and up to 100 are still on the run, according to Forum Social, a group close to prisoners’ families.
But Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Wednesday that "they will not obtain a thing for making a declaration they call a dissolution".
Many ETA victims or relatives say the separatist group should first and foremost condemn their history of violence and shed light on more than 350 unsolved crimes.
"This is not the end of ETA we wanted," Consuelo Ordonez, head of the Covite victims’ association, said on Wednesday at a gathering in San Sebastian. — AFP