BAYONNE (France) • The Basque group ETA, which has fought a long and often bloody drive for independence, provided France with a list of arms caches yesterday under a promise to completely disarm, a move the government called "a major step".
ETA has said the initiative will bring the final curtain down on its decades-long armed campaign for a separate Basque country straddling the Spanish-French border.
"This stage of neutralising an arsenal of arms and explosives is a major step," French Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said.
At a press conference in the French Basque city of Bayonne earlier, a group called the International Verification Commission (IVC) confirmed it had received a list of arms caches from intermediaries that it handed "to the French authorities".
Eight caches of weapons containing 120 firearms and three tonnes of explosives were listed at the sites located in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques department, according to Mr Michel Tubiana, a human rights lawyer who is a member of a group acting as intermediary in the handover.
Number of deaths ETA has been blamed for since 1968. Thousands more people were injured.
Estimated number of its members held in Spain and France.
French police were working to identify the locations and "secure these sites and secure arms and explosives that may be found there", according to Mr Fekl.
Founded in 1959, ETA has been blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a string of bombings and shootings dating back to 1968. Thousands more were injured.
In 2011, after a string of arrests among its senior ranks, ETA announced that it had abandoned its armed campaign. But the move did not entail disarmament.
ETA more recently sought to negotiate its dissolution in exchange for amnesties or improved prison conditions for roughly 350 of its members held in Spain and France, and for current members living under cover.
But both France and Spain have taken a firm line and refused any concessions.
The IVC, set up to monitor ETA's 2011 ceasefire pledge, is not recognised by either the French or the Spanish governments, but its involvement is supported by the government in Spain's autonomous Basque region.
An event was set to take place later yesterday to mark "Disarmament Day", under the theme "We are all artisans of peace".
In Madrid, the government on Friday dismissed ETA's disarmament as a unilateral affair and warned that the group - which it denounces as a terror organisation - could expect "nothing" in return. "It will not reap any political advantage or profit," Mr Inigo Mendez de Vigo, Spain's Culture Minister and its government spokesman, said.