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  • A man lays down a Basque flag at the end of a rally in support of ETA prisoners in Bilbao, April 21.

    A man lays down a Basque flag at the end of a rally in support of ETA prisoners in Bilbao, April 21. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 May 2018

Created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, ETA was fighting for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France.

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.

Thousands March to Demand Better Conditions for ETA Prisoners

"ETA has decided to declare its historical cycle and functions terminated, putting an end to its journey," the group said in a letter published 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, a Basque regional government representative told AFP. 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.

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.

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 kilometers 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 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 Wednesday at a gathering in San Sebastian.

The separatist group issued a partial apology last month, in which it acknowledged the harm done and apologized to some of its victims — but not to those it considered legitimate such as police.

Critics charge that Basque pro-independence parties like Sortu, which include among its ranks people once part of or linked to ETA, are trying to impose their own version of events, while separatists argue that Basques have been repressed for decades, even centuries, by Spain and France.

That came to a head under Franco who forbade the use of the Basque language in public — cue ETA and its struggle against authority, which so many years later has finally come to an end.

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