ETA’s self-styled exiles expected at weekend gathering in Bayonne

Basque left’s bid to repatriate terrorist group’s former members gathers pace with France event

In its monthly report to the government on ETA’s movements, the CNI intelligence agency alerted Mariano Rajoy and the security forces to a planned act by the self-styled “exiles” who have fled Spanish justice. The ceremony is scheduled to place on June 15, World Refugee Day, in Bayonne, in the French Basque Country.

The act has been organized by the abertzale radical political left’s international relations committee and is the culmination of a so-called “refugees campaign” launched last year. The CNI report stated that some 20 exiles will attend the event and in an attempt to boost its political relevance, the abertzale has invited an “international personality,” from the signatories of the Aiete Declaration, which preceded ETA’s October 2011 cessation of hostilities.

Among the mediators at that conference were former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

The aim of the abertzale campaign is to pave the way for former ETA members who are no longer the subject of judicial interest in Spain. None of the exiles have taken part in armed activity or decision-making within the organization. Instead, they acted as laguntzales, or occasional collaborators. The majority were linked to ETA in the 1980s and subsequently went into hiding, particularly in South America. Of those currently in France, around 30 have presented themselves at the Spanish Consulate in Bayonne to apply for Spanish passports. ETA had previously prohibited its members from taking this step, but lifted the ban last year.

Many exiles grasped the opportunity to apply for Spanish papers to be reunited with their families after lawyers acting for the collective had checked with the Spanish legal system that they had no charges pending, or that the statute of limitations had expired.

The ETA exiles have stated their commitment to “participate actively” in the peace process initiated by the Aiete Declaration. “The refugees are willing to contribute to the political process like any other Basque citizen, and are also firmly committed to bringing about an end to exile,” said a group of former ETA collaborators at a rally last November in the south of France.

There are no official figures as to the number of ETA exiles who have set the bureaucratic wheels in motion to obtain Spanish passports, but the majority of applications have been made in Mexico, Cuba, Cape Verde and France. The abertzale claims the total number of ETA exiles is between 500 and 600. The CNI report did not venture any figures but official sources believe there are around 115 whose crimes have prescribed and some 240 who are not the subjects of a current judicial investigation.

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