A commission of international mediators on Friday announced that Basque terrorist group ETA has surrendered a small part of its arsenal as a way of showing its commitment to a complete disarmament.
“The Commission has verified that ETA has sealed and put beyond operational use a specified quantity of arms, ammunition and explosives. A video record of this was taken,” said the six members of the International Verification Commission (IVC) in a statement issued in Bilbao.
The statement came with an inventory of the weapons that have been allegedly sealed in an undisclosed location: two rifles, two revolvers, two hand grenades, 300 bullets, just under 17 kilograms of explosives, nine timers and detonation cord.
The Commission called this step “significant and credible.”
“We believe it will lead to the putting beyond operational use of all ETA’s arms, ammunition and explosives,” the IVC said.
It added that in its experience of other processes, making an inventory of arms, ammunition and explosives, and putting them beyond operational use, were necessary stages prior to complete disarmament.
Though the full extent of ETA’s arsenal is not known, in October 2006 members of the terrorist group stole 350 handguns as well as ammunition from an arms manufacturer in the French town of Vauvert. Counter-terrorism experts have estimated that ETA could still be in possession of several tons of explosives and over 500 long and short-range guns.
The verification commission, whose members include a former South African minister and an ex-political director of the Northern Ireland Office in the United Kingdom, is not recognized by the Spanish government as a valid mediator, as its presence was unilaterally requested by ETA last year.
Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz called the announcement “more of the same” and “an exercise in theatrics.”
Prior to the IVC’s public announcement, Fernández Díaz told the press conference after the Friday Cabinet meeting that international mediators were not necessary to confirm ETA’s disarmament, “just as the group did not need [mediators] to arm themselves. The Civil Guard and the police are enough to verify whether they are really getting rid of their weapons.”
But Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu, of the moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), said he considered the IVC’s work “reliable.” “It is a small step, an insufficient one, but it covers a first and necessary period towards complete disarmament,” he said in a brief statement on Friday.
The Spanish Socialist Party, the main opposition group in parliament, made a statement ahead of the IVC’s announcement. “It has been two years since ETA stopped killing without getting anything in return. It was a great victory for democrats, and now [this victory] must be completed,” said Socialist deputy secretary general Elena Valenciano. “ETA stopped killing and now ETA must stop existing. It must lay down all its weapons and disappear. A terrorist organization cannot bend the will of a democratic state. Sooner or later, ETA will cease to exist.”
Minutes after the IVC’s announcement, the BBC released a video showing two alleged ETA members wearing hoods alongside two IVC mediators. All four are standing behind a table displaying some of the weapons that were allegedly later sealed off. One of the hooded individuals hands over a document to the mediators, presumably ETA’s written statement.
The IVC statement was read out by Ram Manikkalingam, a former advisor to the president of Sri Lanka during negotiations with the Tamil Tigers, who revealed that the sealing took place some time last month. “In April 2013, ETA confidentially requested the IVC to include in its mandate verifying a unilateral process of sealing and putting beyond operational use ETA’s arms, ammunition and explosives. The Commission agreed. In September 2013, ETA indicated to the IVC that it was ready to take a first step in this process. This first step took place in January 2014, in the presence of the Commission,” he said.
ETA announced “a definitive end to its armed activity” on October 20, 2011. Since then, no more attacks have been perpetrated, leaving its death toll at 831 victims since it began operating in 1968. During that time its criminal actions only saw three short periods of inactivity: 1970-1971; 1999; and 2004-2005.
Earlier this month, the terrorist group announced its intention to “make significant contributions to the process without delay.” Many people took this to mean a beginning of disarmament. But Basque nationalist circles are wary of just how much progress this new statement implies, considering ETA’s delaying tactics ever since it announced its latest permanent ceasefire.
In return, ETA insists on talks with the Spanish and French governments to address issues of disarmament, prisoners and what to do with ETA fugitives still at large.
Two months ago, the ETA convict community announced that it would now use “democratic methods” to demand a change in Spain’s penitentiary policy of sending them to prisons away from the Basque Country.