ETA suspects on trial in France read statement apologizing to victims

Abertzale left says move is “positive” while government decries “florid games”

ETA leaders (from left) Txeroki, Mikel Carrera, Iriondo Aitzol, Aramendi Alaitz and Ignacio Irureitagoyena in court in Paris Tuesday.
ETA leaders (from left) Txeroki, Mikel Carrera, Iriondo Aitzol, Aramendi Alaitz and Ignacio Irureitagoyena in court in Paris Tuesday. BENOIT PEYRUCQ / AFP

Former ETA military leader Garikoitz Aspiazu, Txeroki, who is being tried on kidnapping charges in Paris alongside several former ETA chiefs, read a statement Tuesday apologizing "to all the people who, without having any responsibility, have suffered because of ETA's activity."

Saying that he spoke "in the name of ETA, fulfilling a mission authorized by the organization," Txeroki read the message in French while his nine co-defendants stood up in the dock. Among them are four ETA chiefs arrested after the terrorist group broke a 2006 ceasefire: Aitzol Iriondo, Jurdan Martitegi, Ibon Gogeaskoetxea and Mikel Carrera. They are accused of kidnapping a family from Orio (Gipuzkoa) in France in August 2007 with the aim of stealing their van to carry out a car bomb attack in the popular Mediterranean resort of Marina d'Or, in Castellón.

The declaration asking for forgiveness coincides with a Sortu assembly in Pamplona on Saturday to select its executive committee, upon which are expected to sit former leaders of Batasuna, ETA's outlawed political wing, such as Rufi Etxeberria, Pernando Barrena, Joseba Permach and Juan Joxe Petrikorena.

The Spanish government immediately rejected Txeroki's statement. Secretary of state for security, Francisco Martínez, called it "hypocritical rhetoric and florid games" ahead of the Sortu assembly this weekend. Martínez reiterated the government's line on any communiqué from the organization: "The only ETA message that interests us is the one announcing its unconditional dissolution and the handing over of weapons."

On the first day of the trial, which is scheduled to close on March 15, the defendants said they were "humbled and proud of their membership" of ETA and described themselves as "political prisoners" of the French state, which the statement called upon to end "the cycle of violence and set aside the logic of political revenge."

We are fighting two oppressive states; we have to take unpleasant decisions”

"ETA is working in this direction and to allow this opportunity has taken historic decisions with the aim of turning the process into something irreversible," Txeroki said. "Our commitment is real, there is no stratagem. The important thing is ETA has followed the wishes of the Basque people."

In the statement, published in full in the French Basque nationalist-leaning Le Journal du Pays Basque, ETA reiterates its willingness to "discuss the victims and people who have suffered because of the conflict." It appears to offer a contradictory attempt to ask for forgiveness for the crimes to be judged in Paris, while also affirming that "ETA does not deny its responsibility in these matters. [...] We are fighting against two oppressive states [...] sometimes we have to take unpleasant decisions."

Txeroki's declaration was received with enthusiasm by the abertzale Basque radical left, of which Sortu is the flag bearer. Efe reported that three former Batasuna leaders in the Paris courtroom described the fact that the statement was read in the name of ETA as "very important and very positive." Xabi Larralde, Maribi Ugarteburu and Txelui Moreno said the text derives from a "recognition of the damage caused to people who had nothing to do with this conflict."

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