Exclusive: Eta Basque separatist documents reveal details of weapons dumps as group disarms
8/4/17 Giles Tremlett in Bayonne, France
Arms dumps include 118 guns, nearly 3,000kg of explosive materials and more than 25,000 rounds of ammunition
Basque separatist group Eta has said it is giving up 118 pistols, rifles and automatic weapons, 25,700 rounds of ammunition and 2,875 kilograms of explosive materials to French authorities, as one of Europe’s few home-grown listed terrorist groups finally disarms.
The nature and content of the arms dumps were revealed in a set of documents seen exclusively by the Guardian.
Basque separatist group Eta announces plan to lay down all weapons Read more
Eta gives the contents of eight arms dumps in the documents, which are written in Spanish, French and the Basque language of Euskara. The Guardian has not been told where they are and was unable to calculate the totals itself but it is assumed that all – or most – are on French soil.
The documents carry the blue ink stamp of Eta – an acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom.
The Guardian is unable to vouch for exactly what other materials, which included detonators and other devices, the caches might contain.
Police are on their way to find them, with volunteers from peace mediation groups thought to be monitoring the sites.
French forensic experts can be expected to check whether any of the weapons have been used in killings, kidnappings or robberies in which shots where fired. Around 300 of Eta’s 800 killings remain at least partially unsolved.
It is impossible to check whether Eta, which has put out a statement saying it has become an unarmed organisation, is really giving up all its arms.
Nevertheless it is hoped that half a century of violence is definitively over.
In a discreet ceremony behind drawn curtains at the town hall in Bayonne, south-west France, the file was handed over by Txetx Etcheverry, a French Basque environmentalist who has done much to finesse this, the last dramatic phase in Eta’s slow move towards peace. An Italian archbishop, Matteo Zuppi, and an Irish priest, Harold Good, received the file. It was then passed around the table and Ram Manikkalingam, head of the international verification commission, has since confirmed to the Guardian that the file has been handed over to the French authorities.
“It was a very tense moment,” Etcheverry told the Guardian, which was one of three media organisations invited to watch the simple, if emotive ceremony. “But it is a historic day.”
The dumps are thought to be spread across France, where Eta has always had its logistics and command structure. They include a large cache of Smith and Wesson pistols stolen from a French storage facility in 2006. Most of the group’s 800 killings occurred in Spain.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest; Harold Good, Matteo Zuppi and Ram Manikkalingam with the Eta file.
Almost half a century after it began to use violence against the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Eta now appears likely to melt away – refusing to recognise what many observers consider a straightforward defeat by the democratic Spanish governments that took over after Franco’s death in 1975. Spain has made no concessions beyond allowing the handover to happen.
It will still seek to arrest Eta members with blood on their hands and will keep behind bars about 400 Eta members who are serving jail sentences. That explains why Eta may not hand over weapons fired in anger during killings, kidnaps and robberies – which would be incriminating evidence. A question mark hangs over the future of those.
In a last act of defiance Eta has yet to announce its dissolution – perhaps because not everyone in the group is happy about this latest news. The dangers of a splinter organisation emerging are real and the Guardian has learned that even within Eta’s depleted senior ranks there is concern about how hardliners will react.
On Friday Eta, which termed itself a “Basque Socialist revolutionary organisation for national liberation”, issued a statement in which it claimed that both France and Spain had slowed down the disarmament. It accused them of being stuck in a “winners and losers” mindset. “We took up arms for the Basque people and now we leave them in their hands so that Basques can continue taking steps to achieve peace and freedom for our country,” it said.
“Eta cannot be allowed to give up arms that kill for the arms of lying,” said Fernando Savater, a Basque philosopher who has been a leader of popular opposition against Eta.
We have been here, or close, before. In 2014, Eta gave up a first – if token – arms cache. Two years before it had announced that a ceasefire would be “permanent”. Peace talks with the Spanish government in 2006 had appeared set to produce an agreement but those were derailed when the group planted bombs in car parks at Madrid’s Barajas airport, killing two people.
While Eta might have expected some response to earlier peace talks, those in charge are resigned to seeing its prisoners complete their jail terms – while those still on the wanted list remain in hiding. About 300 of its 800 killings remain unresolved and French police have not forgotten that the group’s last victim – a police officer who found some of its members stealing cars from a show room in 2010 – was one of their own.
In private Spanish authorities claim to keep close tracks on those left in an organisation that was depleted – and neutralised – by a relentless round of arrests within its command structure in the early 2000s. For years rumours have abounded about deep penetration of the organisation by Spanish police.
But the disarmament clears the way for Eta’s political allies on the separatist left to keep making gains at elections in the Spanish Basque country and in Navarre – the two border regions that Eta claims should be part of a wider Basque state that includes parts of south-west France.
Basque separatists, many of whom had travelled north from Spain, gathered in Bayonne to celebrate the event.