ETA: 40 years of bloody struggle for Basque homeland

26th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The ETA is blamed for the deaths of 825 people since it began its violent campaign in June 1968.

Madrid -- The Basque separatist group ETA, whose suspected military chief was arrested Saturday in France, has been waging a bloody campaign for an independent northern homeland for more than 40 years.

ETA, short for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Land and Freedom), is blamed for the deaths of 825 people since it began its violent campaign in June 1968.

The group is fighting to carve out full independence for Euskal Herria, the Basque homeland bordering the Atlantic Ocean that is made up of Spain's autonomous Basque country -- a three-province region with its own distinctive language and culture -- along with the neighbouring Navarra province and the French Basque region across the border.

ETA was formed in 1959 during the dark days under the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco, whose brutal suppression of Basques left ETA to be regarded with some indulgence by Spanish democrats while the fascists remained in power.

But more than 90 percent of its victims have been killed since Franco died in 1975 and Spain returned to Europe's democratic fold after four decades of isolation.

But ETA's continued use of violence in a transformed political landscape painted the group into a corner, triggering wide public revulsion and in 2001 landing the group on EU and US lists of terrorist organisations.

ETA's political objectives were backed by a political party, Batasuna, which was banned by Spain's Supreme Court in March 2003 on the grounds that it was close to the armed separatists.

ETA announced in March 2006 a "permanent ceasefire" which allowed the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to begin talks with the group on finding a negotiated end the Basque conflict.

But there was little progress in the nine months before a car bomb attack claimed by ETA killed two people in the car park of Madrid airport in December, 2006, its first deadly attack since 2003.

ETA officially ended the ceasefire in June 2007.

Spanish and French police have since intensified efforts to root out ETA leaders, and have dealt the group a number of blows and arrested hundreds of suspected members. That, however, has not prevented the organisation from mounting dozens of attacks.

On Saturday, security forces in France arrested the suspected military chief of ETA, Jurdan Martitegi, the third top leader of the organisation to be captured in the past six months.

Two other ETA suspects were arrested with him, and Spanish authorities detained six more in the Basque Country as part of the same operation.


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