MADRID – The Basque militant group ETA says it has “completely dissolved all its structures” after a 60-year armed independence campaign, but the Spanish government vowed Wednesday not to abandon the investigation of crimes from the group’s violent past.
In a letter sent to Basque institutions and civil society groups, ETA said it acknowledged its responsibility in failing to solve the Basque “political conflict.” The letter, dated April 16, was obtained by the Associated Press from sources close to the Basque regional government after the Spanish online newspaper eldiario.es published it Wednesday.
ETA, whose initials stand for “Euskadi ta Askatasuna” – or “Basque Homeland and Freedom” – killed more than 850 people in its campaign to create an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.
Amid waning support and debilitating operations by police on both sides of the Pyrenees, ETA declared in 2011 a “definitive end” to its armed campaign.
But it took six more years for the group to give up most of its arsenal and another year for it to announce that the remaining members –numbering fewer than 50, according to Spanish officials, most of them overseas– would be disbanding this week.
Responding to the announcement, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido vowed to keep investigating unresolved crimes attributed to ETA. He said police would “continue to pursue the terrorists, wherever they may be.”
“ETA obtained nothing through its promise to stop killing, and it will obtain nothing by announcing what they call dissolution,” he told reporters.
In the letter, the group said its organization dissolution “doesn’t overcome the conflict that the Basque Country maintains with Spain and with France.”
“The Basque Country is now before a new opportunity to finally close the conflict and build a collective future,” the organization said. “Let’s not repeat the errors, let’s not allow for problems to rot.”
It wasn’t immediately clear why the letter was dated two weeks earlier.
A spokesman for the Basque regional government told the Associated Press that it received ETA’s letter “a few days earlier.” The official, who wasn’t authorized to be named in media reports, declined to elaborate.
Founded in 1958 during Gen. Francisco Franco’s regime, the group grabbed global headlines when it killed the dictator’s anointed successor, Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco, in 1973. It remained active long after Franco’s own death in 1975.
The group’s bloodiest period came as Spain transitioned from dictatorship to democracy during the early 1980s. It targeted not only members of the military and police forces, but politicians, entrepreneurs, civilians and some of its own members who wanted to leave ETA.
In all, the group killed 853 people over four decades, according to a tally by the Spanish Interior Ministry. ETA also injured more than 2,600 people, kidnapped 86 and threatened hundreds more, according to the latest government count.
At least another 60 people were killed by death squads set up by members of Spain’s security forces to perform extrajudicial killings of ETA militants, in what became known as Spain’s “dirty war” on terror.
Civil society groups that have overseen ETA’s staggered finale scheduled an event in Southern France on Friday to mark the organization’s end. The militant group itself had hinted that a final declaration would arrive this week.
At least 358 crimes believed to involve ETA are unresolved, according to Covite, an association of victims that is campaigning for ETA to end “without impunity.”
At a press conference on Wednesday in San Sebastian, minutes before the militant group’s letter was published, Covite President Consuelo Ordonez criticized a statement last week in which ETA sought forgiveness from victims “who didn*t have a direct participation in the conflict.”
Ordonez’s brother Gregorio, a leading regional figure in the conservative Popular Party, was killed by ETA in 1995.
“This is not the end of ETA we wanted and, above all, is not the end of ETA we deserved,” she said.
Covite chided ETA for, among other things, failing to provide information about hundreds of unsolved crimes and failing to condemn its own history of terror and violence.
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