Monitors appear before Spanish tribunal to give evidence over ETA's disarmament

Monitors appear before Spanish tribunal to give evidence over ETA's disarmament

MADRID - Agence France-Presse
Monitors appear before Spanish tribunal to give evidence over ETAs disarmament Three international monitors appeared before a judge in Spain on Feb. 23 to give evidence about their meeting with militants from the armed Basque separatist group ETA.

The move came after the International Verification Commission announced Feb. 21 that it had overseen ETA militants handing over a small cache of weapons as the first step towards disarmament.

It released a video, shot in January, that showed two of its members receiving guns and explosives from militants in balaclavas.

The commission's work in monitoring the ETA ceasefire is not recognised by the Spanish government, which insists ETA disband without conditions.

Victims' association Covite has demanded that all six members of the commission be summoned to give evidence on the whereabouts of the militants.

Commission head Ram Manikkalingam, a Sri Lankan who once advised his government during talks with Tamil Tiger rebels, pledged to be "transparent" and cooperate with the tribunal and Judge Ismael Moreno.

"We are working for the consolidation of peace and coexistence in the Basque country," he said after leaving the tribunal.

"It has been three years since ETA declared a permanent unilateral and verifiable ceasefire. ETA has upheld the ceasefire and complied with its commitment to end violence.

"Now it is time to seal ETA's weapons and put them beyond operational use," he added.

'Significant step'

Others to appear before Moreno were Ronnie Kasrils, a former intelligence minister in South Africa; and Chris Maccabe, a Briton who previously worked on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Ahead of their appearance, they met with Basque leader Inigo Urkullu, a nationalist who expressed his "support and appreciation" for the commissions work in "helping Basque citizens to turn once and for all the page of violence".

Pro-independence groups in the region were more vehement, with the head of a pro-independence coalition, Amaiur Jon Inarritu, calling the summons by the Madrid tribunal "ridiculous" and "nonsensical".

In its statement on Friday, the commission called the hand-over of weapons "a significant step", saying the small number of arms was the result of constraints caused by operating "in clandestine conditions".

Manikkalingam called on French and Spanish governments to facilitate the process.    

The conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed the move by ETA, which is classed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

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.