ETA’s 'political chief' arrested in France

20th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Spanish police believe one of the two ETA militants arrested in France is the group’s political chief.

Carnac – Police on Monday arrested two suspected top ETA militants in France, including a man described by Madrid as the political leader of the armed Basque separatist group.

Thirty-year-old Aitor Elizaran was arrested in a car park in the Brittany seaside town of Carnac in a joint Franco-Spanish operation, along with a woman suspect, 32-year-old Oihana Sanvicente.

Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference Elizaran was the group's "political chief", who was "in charge of transmitting ETA instructions to radical leftist separatists" in the Spanish Basque region.

"According to information that the Civil Guard (police) has given me, he is the head of the political apparatus of ETA," he added.

Rubalcaba said Elizaran was thought to have taken over the political leadership of the group following the arrest of ETA leader Javier Lopez Pena in May 2008 in southwestern France.

He and Sanvicente were arrested at the wheel of a stolen car in a carpark in the sleepy out-of-season resort, a French police spokeswoman said.

Both were armed with loaded handguns but they did not try to resist arrest, police said. They were also carrying false identity documents, according to Rubalcaba.

Officers had known for several days that Elizaran was in Brittany when they spotted him driving a recently stolen black Audi A3 car, with black-tinted windows and false number plates, the police spokeswoman said.

The pair were taken into custody in the northwestern city of Rennes, and were to be transferred Tuesday to Paris for questioning by anti-terrorism investigators. Under French anti-terror laws they can be held for up to four days.

The arrests come three days after a Spanish judge ordered the detention of Arnaldo Ortegi, a leader of Batasuna, the banned political arm of ETA, and four other militants suspected of trying to rebuild the party leadership.

The five were among 10 suspected radicals arrested on 13 October in the Basque Country and neighbouring Navarra region in a crackdown on Batasuna, which was banned in 2003 because of its supposed links with ETA.

ETA is held responsible for 828 deaths in a 41-year campaign for independence in the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.

In mid-2007 the group called off a 15-month-old ceasefire following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with the Spanish government.

Since then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has taken a hard line, repeatedly ruling out new negotiations while operations by Spanish and French police have weakened ETA's leadership.

In November 2008 police in France arrested ETA's suspected military leader, Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, thought to represent the hardliners in the group who torpedoed the recent peace talks.

His two suspected successors, Aitzol Iriondo Yarza and Jurdan Martitegi, were detained in France within the space of a few weeks.

Since the start of this year, some 30 ETA suspects have been arrested in France, which is used as a rear base by ETA militants to rearm and plan attacks across the border. Police uncovered 14 ETA weapons and explosives caches across southern France earlier this year.

AFP / Expatica

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