MADRID — Basque separatist group ETA publicly declared its dissolution Thursday, bringing an end to a campaign against Spain that saw more than 850 people killed over more than four decades of bombings and shootings.
In an open letter to the Basque people, ETA said it has "completely dismantled all of its structures" and "will no longer express political positions, promote initiatives or interact with other stakeholders."
Its announcement was dismissed as propaganda by victims' groups, while the Spanish government said it would continue to prosecute anyone with any links to any of the violence conducted during the ETA campaign, which blighted Spain's transition to democracy from the late 1970s onwards.
ETA formally announced its dissolution in a letter read out at the headquarters of a conflict resolution group in Geneva. That came a day after the group's intentions were known in a separate leaked letter that had been sent in April to the Basque regional government, workers' unions and others.
David Harland, the executive director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, which has been involved in peace negotiations between ETA and the Spanish government dating back to 2004, told The Associated Press that Thursday's announcement was a "unilateral" move by the group.
Basque-language website naiz.eus also published audio with the voices of two well-known ETA members, Josu Urrutikoetxea — also known as Josu Ternera — and Marixol Iparragirre, reading the letter's content.
In response, the Spanish government vowed to continue prosecuting the organization's militants who had sought to create a new Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stuck to his government's hard line and called ETA's disbanding "noise and propaganda."
"Whatever ETA does or says, it won't find any loophole for impunity," Rajoy said. "ETA can announce its disappearance, but its crimes or the action of the judiciary won't disappear."
The head of the Basque regional government, Inigo Urkullu, said that ETA "will stop disturbing us forever."
"We want to underline our determination to work together for a future of normalized coexistence," Urkullu said in Bilbao.
ETA, which stands for "Basque Homeland and Freedom" in the Basque language and was born in 1958, carried out bombings, shootings and kidnappings, most of them after Spain transitioned to democracy from the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco after his death in 1975.
The group killed 853 people in 42 years from 1968 to 2010, according to a tally by the Spanish Interior Ministry. It also injured more than 2,600 people, kidnapped 86 and threatened hundreds more.
In the letter, the former militants said they will keep on seeking a "reunited, independent, socialist, Basque-speaking and non-patriarchal Basque country," but they will do so outside of ETA.
The drive to create a Basque homeland tarnished Spain's return to democracy; and members of the country's security apparatus were jailed for launching a "dirty war" on terror during the 1980s with clandestine death squads to kill ETA militants — at least 60 separatists were killed by the Groups of Anti-Terror Liberation, or GAL, and other extreme right groups.
Civil society groups that have overseen ETA's staggered finale have scheduled an event in the southern French town of Cambo-les-Bains on Friday to mark the organization's end. Spanish, French and the regional Basque and Navarra governments are not sending any representatives to the event.
Associations representing the victims, survivors and relatives have called for a full investigation on at least 358 unresolved crimes that are believed to have involved ETA.
Spain's Association of Terror Victims said the dissolution announcement was "a pantomime" and "a farce," and that ETA militants were attempting to portray themselves to the international community as "the good guys."
The association said in a statement that ETA hasn't helped solve crimes it committed that are still under investigation, hasn't offered a blanket apology to victims beyond relaying its regret for those caught up in the Basque conflict, and hasn't recognized the damage it caused.
Other Spanish victims' associations have made similar criticisms of ETA's stance.