The handover in the French city of Bayonne will not dissolve the group, which declared a ceasefire in 2011 after killing more than 800 people during a decades-long campaign for an independent state in northern Spain and southwest France.
“ETA has handed over its weapons to civil society. They are on French soil,” he added, giving no other details about the purported arms transfer or the contents of the arsenal itself, saying they were “confidential”.
Analysts say ETA’s arsenal is estimated at 130 handguns and two tonnes of explosives.
“Disarming, of course isn’t the same as disbanding, and we are told ETA members have gone away for a period of reflection to decide where they go from here,” Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from Bilbao, said.
“One thing is for certain though: an armed group without arms doesn’t have much point’.
‘Nothing in return’
In Spain’s capital, Madrid, the government on Saturday dismissed ETA’s disarmament as a unilateral affair and warned that the group – which it denounces as a “terrorist” organisation – could expect “nothing” in return.
“May it disarm, may it dissolve, may it ask forgiveness and help to clear up the crimes which have not been resolved,” he said.
A government source told the Reuters news agency that Madrid did not believe the group would hand over all its arms, while Spain’s state prosecutor has asked the High Court to examine those surrendered for murder weapons used in unresolved cases.
Anger among Basques at political and cultural repression during the Spanish dictatorship of General Francisco Franco led to the founding of ETA – which in Basque stands for “Basque Country and Freedom” – in 1959.
‘Death and pain’
Journalist Gorka Landaburu, who had written articles critical of ETA and in return got a bomb in the mail which left him blind in one eye and took a thumb off, said he believed the entire armed struggle was a waste of time.
“It’s easy to apologise – I’m not asking them to punish themselves in public. But they need to think hard about what they actually gained in 50 years,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Nothing. They just caused death and pain, even on their own side.”
The group chose not to disarm in 2011 when it called its truce, but has been severely weakened in the past decade after hundreds of its members were arrested in joint Spanish and French operations and weapons were seized.
In a symbolic gesture in 2014, ETA released a video showing masked members giving up a limited weapons cache to verifiers.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies