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Resolve the issue of ETA prisoners, a priority for a lasting peace

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – Ander Gillenea – | Two women hold a sign with the legend in Basque “Basque prisoners home” during a demonstration in favor of the ETA prisoners being moved near the Basque Country, on April 21 in Bilbao

The dissolution of ETA will not be enough to guarantee a lasting peace in the Basque Country, warn two French architects of the peace process, who ask Madrid and Paris to resolve the situation of the 270 prisoners imprisoned on both sides of the border.

An international conference, considered crucial for the peace process, will be held on May 4 near Bayonne, in southeastern France, and must coincide in principle with the official announcement of the dissolution of ETA, founded in 1959.

“The end of ETA does not guarantee an irreversible peace,” says Jean-René Etchegaray, mayor of Bayonne (southwest) and president of the Community of agglomerations of the Basque Country.

“If we want to put an end to this last armed conflict in Western Europe, we must build peace by involving the victims and the prisoners.” Negotiations of all armed conflicts in the world have addressed the issue of prisons, says Etchegaray in an interview. with the AFP.

“The end of ETA is the moment in which the subject of prisoners must be put on the table, in which France and Spain must put an end to their exceptional prison regime for Basque prisoners,” Jean-Noël Etcheverry also estimates. also known as Txetx, one of the pillars of the peace process.

“If nothing changes, the last Basque prisoner will be released from prison around 2050. How can a reconciliation be built with such a perspective?” He asks.

Even more if one takes into account that there is a new generation of independentistas that could be impatient. “The forms of radicalization are perceptible, and this radicalization must not find a favorable ground to develop,” warns Jean-Rene Etchegaray. “It would be a mistake to believe that, if ETA dissolves, the Basque Country is safe from any resumption of violence.”

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – Gaizka Iroz – | Mayor Jean-René Etchegaray speaks at a press conference in Bayonne (southwest of France) on April 23rd, when a “primordial” international meeting was announced for the peace process in the Basque Country

But the wounds are closed and the families of the victims are ready to turn the page 60 years after the creation of the organization to which the death of at least 829 people is attributed and which announced its total disarmament just last year?

“It is not insulting for the families of the victims (…) to think about a lasting peace associating the prisoners”, esteems Etchegaray.

– ‘ETA will not get anything’ –

“France has changed its penitentiary policy, bringing about a dozen prisoners from their families, but the movement must accelerate,” says Jean-Noël Etcheverry. The ball is in the field of the States, and mainly of Spain that has around 220 prisoners against 51 in France, “he adds.

But Madrid at the moment does not seem to want to alter its policy.

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – Ander Gillenea – | A banner with the legend in Basque of “prisoners in the street” leads a demonstration during a demonstration in favor of ETA prisoners being moved near the Basque Country, on April 21 in Bilbao

“ETA has not achieved any of its great objectives for those who killed and planted terror in Spain, ETA did not achieve anything to stop killing and nothing will get for his declaration of disappearance,” said Spanish Interior Minister Juan recently Ignacio Zoido, when the next dissolution of the organization was announced.

“The Spanish government since 2011 has never tried to create a policy of dialogue, of appeasement, on the contrary, it constantly uses the strategy of tension,” says Txetx.

But the apologies presented by ETA to the victims for the “serious damage” caused puts Madrid in a more difficult position.

“ETA’s recognition of the existence of innocent victims, of suffering caused by their actions is decisive,” estimates Jean-François Blanco, defense lawyer for ETA members.

“It is crucial for the reconciliation of citizens and the advent of a lasting peace,” he adds. “The Spanish government would be guilty if it ignores it. A transitional justice process is needed more than ever.”

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