ETA prisoners back end of armed struggle
ETA militants held in Spanish and French jails Saturday backed the Basque separatist group's decision to end its armed struggle and said it was aware of the "pain" of the conflict's victims.
Spokesmen Bego Uzkudun and Karlos Ezurra read an eight-point statement on behalf of the 650 ETA prisoners in Spain and 150 in France, the result of a lengthy debate since the group said it was laying down its arms last October.
The prisoners expressed their "respect and support for the decision taken by ETA implying the end of the phase of armed activity as an instrument of struggle."
"We are fully aware of the pain caused" by ETA's four-decade armed campaign for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France, which is blamed for the deaths of 829 people.
In the statement read in Guernica, the historic capital of the Basques, the prisoners also called on the French and Spanish governments to "use this opportunity in a responsible and courageous manner by taking the path of a democratic resolution" to the conflict.
The statement came after new French Interior Minister Manuel Valls called for the "complete dissolution" of ETA, following talks in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart Jorge Fernandez Diaz.
Valls said France and Spain must further their joint fight against ETA, which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, warning that they must not "drop their guard".
Despite its announcement in October of the "definitive" end of its campaign of violence, ETA has neither surrendered its weapons nor disbanded, and is pressing for direct talks with France and Spain.
But both governments, whose police have cooperated closely in dealing a series of damaging blows to ETA by arresting its top leaders, have rejected negotiations.
Diaz has also ruled out amnesties or mass regrouping for jailed ETA members, some of whom are held in prisons far from the Basque Country.
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