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Separatist Group ETA Announces Disbandment After Decades Of Violent Resistance In Spain

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Basque separatist group known as ETA is calling it quits. ETA was founded in 1959. It's spent the nearly six decades since fighting for Basque nationalism and independence, often using violence, using bombings. The group is accused of some 800 murders in Spain. The European Union considers it a terrorist group.

Journalist Guy Hedgecoe has reported in depth on ETA. He joins us now from Madrid. Hi.

GUY HEDGECOE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hi. Explain first of all what ETA was at its peak, which - fair to say that was around about the 1980s.

HEDGECOE: Yes, that's right. I mean, throughout the '80s and into the '90s ETA was really the focus or one of the main focuses of Spanish politics. Anti-terrorism policy really dominated Spanish politics because of ETA. And the campaign by the Spanish government to battle ETA was a huge priority for it to the extent that there were government-sponsored death squads operating during the 1980s which went off to ETA members, inadvertently killing sometimes people who are not members of ETA as well.

KELLY: Put this latest development into context for us because ETA has declared a number of cease-fires over the years, most recently in 2011. Last year, the group offered to disarm. What is the significance of what's happening this week?

HEDGECOE: Well, everything - all those events that you mentioned have been sort of leading up to this really. It's been one long, drawn-out disbandment, I think you could describe it as. You know, it had that definitive cease-fire which was really crucial back in 2011. A lot of people were breathing a sigh of relief then because many people felt that that was effectively the end of ETA because it was the end of the violence. The disbandment is putting a full stop on this, is putting a period at the end of this whole dark era of Basque history which has claimed so many lives, wrecked so many lives and divided Basque society. So I think it's a very symbolic moment for Basques more than anything else.

KELLY: To what extent might this week's decision to disband have been informed by a different secessionist movement that has been underway, the Catalan secessionist movement?

HEDGECOE: It's - I mean, it's hard to tell how much the Catalan independence movement has influenced this decision directly. I think many Basques have been watching that and thinking that perhaps it's possible to gain independence through peaceful means, that a region that is part of Spain and the Spanish state can try and break away possibly unilaterally - possibly not, but certainly not using violence - and can get quite far. Now, the Catalan independence movement is based very much on the idea of voting on their future. And that is a similar aim for Basques as well, for Basque nationalists. So they have some quite similar aims in mind. And I think possibly ETA has been watching closely how the Catalans have been going about their own attempts to break away from the Spanish state.

KELLY: Guy Hedgecoe, thank you.

HEDGECOE: It's a pleasure.

KELLY: That's journalist Guy Hedgecoe talking about the closing of a chapter in Spain. The Basque separatist group known as ETA is disbanding. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.