ETA suffers new blow with arrest of military chief

20th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The arrest of the third top ETA leader in the past six months coincides with members within the organisation who are questioning its radical approach.

MADRID – ETA hardliners suffered yet another blow with the weekend arrest of the Basque separatist group's military chief, at a time when some in the organisation are openly questioning its use of violence.

The arrest of Jurdan Martitegi in southwestern France on Saturday is "another hard blow for the military strategy of ETA," said Basque expert Alberto Surio.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Sunday that "within the organisation and in its entourage, there is a discussion about whether or not to abandon the armed fight."

He again ruled out any new negotiations with ETA.

Since the failure of tentative peace negotiations with the government of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that took place in 2006/2007 and the end of ETA's ceasefire in June 2007, the organisation has become increasingly radicalised, stepping up its attacks.

At the same time, however, judicial authorities have put pressure on the political wing of the group while security forces stepped up arrests among its leadership.

Martitegi, 28, was captured along with two other suspects, while a further six suspected ETA members were detained in Spain's northern Basque Country in the same operation.

He is the third top ETA leader arrested in the past six months.

He is believed to have replaced Aitzol Iriondo, who was arrested in France on 8 December, as head of ETA's military operations. Iriondo had himself replaced Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, who was arrested in France on 17 November.

It is possible that the police operations are aimed at facilitating the emergence of an ETA leadership that is more in favour of dialogue, said Surio, an expert on Basque affairs at the Basque newspaper Diario Vasco.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais said Sunday that ETA's former political leader, Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, known as Josu Ternera, who is more open to talks with Madrid, has recently returned as overall head of the organisation.

The return of Ternera, believed to the political chief of ETA until the end of the tentative peace process with the government in 2006, has "thrown into doubt the 'usefulness' of terrorism," the paper said, quoting "nationalist sources”.

Another of the more moderate leaders, Arnaldo Otegi of ETA's political wing, last week sought to downplay a recent ETA declaration that the new regional government would be its "priority target", and called for "political dialogue”, El Pais said.

ETA prisoners are also increasingly questioning the usefulness of armed struggle, two Basque newspapers said recently quoting a police document.

They said about one third of the 737 ETA prisoners in Spanish jails want the Basque separatist group to lay down its arms.

AFP / Expatica

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