A civic support organization for the Basque separatist group ETA has disbanded in Spain, a newspaper that acts as a mouthpiece for the separatists reported Saturday.
The news adds weight to Spanish government claims that support for ETA's violent tactics is crumbling. The group has been responsible for hundreds of killings since the late 1960s.
According to Gara newspaper, the support group, Ekin, formed in November 1999 with the aim of "impelling independence, nation-building and socialism at street level." But on Saturday, the paper's website said two unidentified spokesmen told it. "Ekin members have ended their endeavors as an organization."
Interior Minister, Antonio Camacho, said Ekin's disappearance proved ETA was "in an unstoppable process of dissolution."
"We are experiencing the last phase of the terrorist group's existence," Camacho said.
Government spokesman Jose Blanco said Ekin's disbanding was yet another step toward ETA's demise, but he added that it was "not the final step" that Spain hoped for.
"What the whole of Spanish society yearns for is a statement announcing an end to terrorism, and the end of ETA," Blanco said Saturday.
ETA, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the U.S., has killed 829 people since the late 1960s in a campaign of bombings and shootings aimed at forcing the government to allow the creation of an independent Basque homeland.
Former National Court judge Baltasar Garzon found in April 2001 that Ekin, like the banned Batasuna party, had acted as a political wing for ETA, "co-directing activity" such as low-level street violence.
In April 2001 Garzon banned Ekin for being part of ETA, and in July of that year he jailed 31 of its members for "collaboration with ETA."
A week ago, a group representing 700 ETA prisoners in Spain and France called for an end to violence as a tool for achieving Basque independence.
The prisoners' group also endorsed a groundbreaking agreement reached late last year by pro-independence Basque political parties _ chiefly the remnants of Batasuna _ and civic groups such as Ekin, that said Basque independence should be achieved through peaceful means.
ETA declared a cease-fire in September 2010 and went further in January by calling the truce permanent and saying it was prepared to let international observers verify it.
The separatist group has been decimated in recent years by arrests of its leaders and members, and it has not killed anyone in Spain in more than two years.