Basque group ETA has begun giving up its weapons, international monitors said on Friday, a possible step toward a historic disarmament by western Europe’s last major violent separatist movement.
The Spanish government and victims’ groups shrugged off the gesture, insisting that ETA, which is blamed for more than 800 killings, disband unconditionally without foreign mediation.
A commission monitoring a ceasefire in ETA’s decades-long campaign released a video of black-masked members of the group presenting to monitors revolvers, a rifle, bullets and explosives.
“The commission has verified that ETA has sealed and put beyond operational use a specified quantity of arms, ammunition and explosives,” the body’s spokesman, Ram Manikkalingam, told reporters in the Spanish Basque city of Bilbao.
“The commission is confident that this step is significant and credible. We believe that it will lead to the putting beyond operational use of all ETA’s arms, ammunition and explosives,” the Sri Lankan spokesman said.
Spain’s conservative government shrugged off the move by ETA, which is classed as a terrorist group by the US and EU.
It does not recognise Manikkalingam and his International Verification Commission.
“We do not need these international verifiers,” Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said.
“If ETA really wants to get rid of arms, the civil guard and police are enough for us,” he added.
ETA’s move sparked optimism among political leaders in the Spanish Basque country, however.
“It is a small step, it is not sufficient, but it is a first and necessary step towards complete disarmament,” the Spanish regional president Inigo Urkullu, a conservative nationalist, told a news conference.
Victims’ association Dignity and Justice rejected the foreign mediators’ announcement.
“ETA has not spoken nor made a single gesture. It has just been intermediaries that have recounted some scarcely credible deeds,” it said in a statement.
ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.
The commission’s video, broadcast by BBC television and posted online by Spanish media, showed two ETA members presenting a table laden with weapons and explosives to Manikkalingam and Ronnie Kasrils, a South African former minister.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time that an armed group accepts this step without gaining anything in return on the political front. It’s a unilateral step,” Manikkalingam said.
He responded to critics who said that the cache of arms was relatively small.
“The quantity of arms, I think, is partly the result of the fact that they had to do this under clandestine conditions, so I don’t think it’s insignificant at all,” he said.
The group said the arms in the video, which was dated to last month in the Basque Country, were sealed and put out of use.
They were listed in an inventory shown to reporters by the commission.
The Spanish and French governments refuse to negotiate with ETA, which has been weakened over recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders in the two countries.
Only about 30 of its active members are thought to be still at large.
In October 2011, it announced a “definitive end to armed activity,” but refused to formally disarm and disband.