- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

MADRID (AP) - Basque civil society groups will complete the full disarmament of separatist group ETA by April 8, an environmental activist with ties to the band said Friday.

The militants announced a permanent cease-fire in 2011, but the governments of Spain and France have so far refused to take part in its disarmament because ETA tied it to the future of its militants, both in and out of jail.

Police operations have meanwhile weakened ETA. Disarmament, if completed, would primarily be a symbolic step, given that the reduced arsenal in the hands of the militants is believed to be obsolete.

Txetx Etcheverry, a prominent figure in the French Basque community who tried to manage a disarmament effort in 2016, told The Associated Press that the new initiative was agreed with ETA and will be carried out whether French authorities agree or not to receive the weapons.

“If the French government doesn’t take responsibility, the Basque civil Society will take a step forward, we can’t imagine five more years of inaction,” Etcheverry said.

The governments of Spain and France have demanded that ETA lay down its weapons without conditions and disband.

“We want to disarm ETA in its totality, effectively and in a shared way with all the forces of the Basque civil society,” said Etcheverry.

ETA, founded in 1959 during the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco, killed 829 people in its nearly four-decade campaign to create a Basque homeland in a region straddling northern Spain and southwest France.

It was most violent in the 1980s, staging hundreds of shootings of police, politicians and businesspeople.

One year after its last deadly attack, killing a French police officer near Paris in March 2010, the group announced it was renouncing violence.

In the absence of an announcement from ETA, a Spanish government spokesman declined to elaborate on its reaction.

ETA needs to do two things - to disarm and disband,” the cabinet’s spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters during a weekly briefing.

He added that the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has “not moved even one millimeter in its position for six years.”

Etcheverry, member of the Basque environmental organization Bizi, was among five well-known Basque activists arrested in December in the southern French town of Louhossoa after police said they had discovered a suspected ETA weapons trove.

They were charged with possession of explosives and weapons, released on bail and are awaiting trial. The activists said the arrests by French and Spanish police were targeting peace activists managing ETA’s disarmament.

Etcheverry said that the group would disclose details of the disarmament on Saturday during an event in the southern French town of Biarritz.

He said the group was clearing the way to “unblock other important issues in the Basque peace process” such as the future of imprisoned ETA members and the reconciliation in the Basque society. He didn’t mention the possibility of ETA disbanding.

Basque regional leader Inigo Urkullu said its government was ready to assist in the disarmament process and asked the governments of Spain and France to show a high-minded attitude to reach a permanent solution.

The economically powerful Basque region, where there is a strong cultural identity and the Basque language is spoken along Spanish, is one of 17 semi-autonomous regions in Spain.

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