Basque separatist group ETA apologizes to victims ahead of dissolution

The Basque militant group ETA has apologized for the harm caused to victims and their relatives during its half-century, violent campaign to create an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France.

Group handed over weapons caches last year, ending Western Europe's last major armed insurgency

Masked members of the Basque separatist group ETA raise their fists in unison following a news conference at an undisclosed location, in a file image made from video and provided on Oct. 20, 2011. In a statement published Friday, ETA says it is sorry for the pain that its armed campaign for Basque independence caused, and vows not to fall back into violence. (Gara via Associated Press)

The Basque militant group ETA on Friday apologized for the harm caused to victims and their relatives during its half-century-long violent campaign to create an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France.

The apology comes as the group is expected to announce its final dissolution early next month, just over a year after it ended its armed separatist campaign by surrendering guns and explosives.

The group declared a ceasefire in 2011 and handed over weapons caches in April 2017, bringing a close to Western Europe's last major armed insurgency.

"We are aware that during this long period of armed struggle we have created a lot of pain, including many damages for which there is no solution. We want to show respect for the dead, those injured and the victims that were caused by the actions of ETA.... We truly apologize," the group said in a statement published by Basque newspaper Gara.

"Looking forward, reconciliation is one of the tasks that has to be carried out in the Basque Country, something that is already happening between citizens. It is a needed exercise to acknowledge the truth in a constructive way, heal wounds and build up guarantees so that this suffering does not happen again," it also said.

'Weapons of democracy'

The Spanish government welcomed the apology and said the group had been defeated "with the weapons of democracy."

"The victims, their memory and their dignity have been decisive in defeating ETA. ETA should have apologized for the harm caused in a sincere and unconditional way a long time ago," the prime minister's office said.

The ETA (or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Country and Freedom) was founded in 1959 and arose from anger and frustration among Basques, who have their own language and culture, from political repression under Spain's ruler, Gen. Francisco Franco.

The campaign, which included political assassinations as well as bombings aimed at the general populace, escalated in the 1960s into violence that was reciprocated by the Franco dictatorship.

ETA will announce its full dissolution during the first weekend of May, Basque broadcaster ETB reported on Wednesday.

Details of the event are expected to be announced at a news conference on Monday by South African lawyer Brian Currin and other members of the International Contact Group mediating body.