Basque group ETA apologizes to victims of decades-long violence

April 20 (UPI) — Basque nationalist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which is responsible for killing more than 850 people during a four-decade campaign, apologized Friday for suffering it’s caused — ahead of plans next month to dissolve.

The group said in a statement that it accepts “direct responsibility” for years of bloodshed and asked for forgiveness for the deaths of people without “a direct participation in the conflict.”

“We know that, forced by the needs of all kinds of armed struggle, our actions have harmed citizens without any responsibility,” ETA said in a statement. “We have also caused serious damage that has no way back. We ask these people and their families for forgiveness.”

The Spanish government reacted positively to the apology, adding that the group should have apologized a long time ago.

ETA is planning to dissolve in May, a move the government and Basque parties believed would facilitate an apology and the transfer of ETA convicts to prisons closer to Basque Country, an autonomous region in northern Spain that’s home to the group.

ETA is the main faction within the Basque National Liberation Movement.

The group, whose acronym stands for “Basque homeland and freedom,” was founded in 1959 when the region was under the Franco dictatorship. Its goal was to establish an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.

ETA’s bloody campaign ended in 2011 after it announced an end to the violence.

“ETA has been defeated with the weapons of democracy and the strength of the rule of law,” the Spanish government said Friday. “It’s good that the terrorist group is apologizing to victims because the victims, together with their memories and their dignity, were key to ETA’s defeat.”

Opposition leader Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Party tweeted a message to ETA victims and their families, saying “it has been a long, tough road.”

“We are before the great step for the definitive peace: the recognition of the terrible damage and the pain caused,” Sanchez tweeted. “Our sense of remembrance is for the victims and their families.”

EU spokeswoman Margaritis Schinas said the apology shows “there is no room for guns and weapons, only for peace and the rule of law.”