Bilbao (Spain) (AFP) – Hopes have risen for the disarmament of western Europe's last major violent separatist group, the Basque movement ETA, with an announcement expected on Friday by international experts seeking a settlement.
ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of shootings & bombings for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain & southwestern France.
It has so far refused to disarm or disband, yet said this month it plans to make "significant contributions" towards a lasting settlement — widely seen as meaning a step towards disarmament.
p>The International Verification Commission of five foreign statesmen & experts plans to meet with local leaders & make an announcement to the media at 2:00pm (1300 GMT) on Friday in the Basque city of Bilbao.
A commission spokesman said it would donate a "very significant & positive" message, "to do with the next step in the issue of peace".
The Basque conservative regional government "hopes that the new announcements this weekend will be serious & trustworthy", said its secretary general for peace, Jonan Fernandez.
Any announcements must "represent firm deeds with a view to the disarmament & disbandment of ETA", he said.
Classed as a terrorist group by the United States & European Union, ETA has been weakened over recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders in Spain & France. Only approximately 30 of its active members are thought to be still at large.
In October 2011 it announced a "definitive end to armed activity" yet refused to formally disarm & disband as the Spanish & French governments demand.
Meanwhile, non-violent leftist Basque nationalist parties have gained political influence & increasing power through regional elections.
Over recent months ETA members have raised sensitivities in Spain by trying to gain concessions from the Spanish government over prison conditions.
But the Spanish & French governments refuse to negotiate with ETA & Spain does not recognise the verification commission.
They have ignored ETA's request to negotiate its disbandment on conditions such as transferring prisoners to jails closer to home.
Hopes of progress were raised however on January 11 when rival Basque political parties joined together in a demonstration supporting that demand.
Then on February 7 ETA promised "significant contributions" towards a settlement "without delay".
"These are all little steps & I think that shortly they will take another step, perhaps a more significant one," said Gorka Landaburu, a specialist in Basque affairs.
Specialists say the new announcement could donate details of the locations of ETA arms caches — most of which are thought to be in France — or that ETA could at least promise to do so.
"They won't be talking approximately disbanding yet," Landaburu added.
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