Basque militants vow to put all arms beyond reach

MADRID (AP) — The Basque separatist group ETA confirms it has begun to store weapons beyond its members' reach and says the secretive process eventually will render its entire arsenal harmless.

ETA issued its first statement following a Feb. 21 announcement by international observers that the underground organization had allowed them to inspect a small cache of weapons before they were "sealed" by undefined means in a confidential location.

Spain dismissed the move as meaningless theater and repeated its long-held demand for the outlawed group to surrender weapons directly to Spanish authorities, a peacemaking gesture that ETA refuses to make.

ETA did not mention Spain's dismissive position in its statement published Saturday in the Basque newspaper Gara. It vowed to continue to work with the six-member team of inspectors until all of its weapons cannot pose a threat to others, and insists that use of foreign observers should reassure Spain that the weapons will not be used again.

"The process of sealing the stockpile of weapons has begun and ETA's commitment is to take it to the end, until the last cache," its statement said. The Feb. 24-dated statement did not specify any target dates for further acts of weapons "sealing" in cooperation with the ETA-approved inspectors, whose authority is not recognized by Spain.

On Feb. 21, the inspectors held a press conference in Bilbao, northern Spain, detailing their inspection the previous month of a secret weapons-sealing ceremony. Around the same time, the BBC broadcast a video of that event, showing a range of weapons that the inspectors said had been "put beyond use": a rifle, three pistols, 300 rounds of ammunition, two grenades, and around 16 kilograms (35 pounds) of explosives.

No credible estimates of ETA's full arsenal exists. In one sign of its potential size, French authorities blamed ETA for stealing about 200 handguns from a French arms depot in 2006. ETA seeks to create an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwest France. It killed about 830 people, mostly in Spain, from 1968 to a 2011 cease-fire.

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