French-Spanish operation thwarted new ETA attack

19th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

French and Spanish security forces thwarted an ETA attack with the arrest of the military chief of the Basque separatist group and eight other suspected members, the Spanish government said Sunday.

MADRID - French and Spanish security forces thwarted an ETA attack with the arrest of the military chief of the Basque separatist group and eight other suspected members, the Spanish government said Sunday.

Jurdan Martitegi, considered the head of ETA's military operations, was captured on Saturday along with two other suspected ETA members at a village in southwestern France.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said police located Martitegi by following one of the two other suspects, Alexander Uriarte, who had gone to France to get "instructions" from Martitegi about a new attack being planned.

The minister gave no further details.

A further six ETA suspects were arrested in Spain's northern Basque Country later Saturday as part of the same operation.

Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hailed the arrests.

"I can assure you that we are going to be finished with this historical wound," he said. "We are going to be finished with terrorism, with ETA."

Rubalcaba told a news conference that the "brilliant operation" on Saturday was the culmination of a six-month period that had been "particularly profitable" in the fight against ETA.

Martitegi's presumed predecessor, Aitzol Iriondo, was arrested in France on 8 December. Iriondo had himself replaced Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, who was captured in France on 17 November.

Considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, ETA is blamed for the deaths of 825 people in its 40-year campaign of bombings and shootings to carve a Basque homeland out of parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

It resumed attacks in mid-2007 after a 15-month truce, following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with the Zapatero government.

Rubalcaba Sunday reaffirmed that the government would not reopen negotiations with ETA.

"That's a process in the past, and the past never comes back," he said.

The minister said the only question now "is whether or not ETA is going to abandon" its violent campaign.

"It is true that within the organisation and in its entourage there is a discussion about whether or not to abandon the armed fight," he said.

Nonetheless, Spanish news media speculated Sunday that the police crackdown might lead to a new ETA leadership more open to talks with Madrid.

One indication, according to El Pais, was that ETA's former political leader, Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, known as "Josu Ternera," who is more open to such dialogue, has recently returned as overall head of the organisation.

ETA earlier this month warned that the incoming regional government of the Basque Country lacked "democratic legitimacy" and would be its "priority target."

The leader of the Basque Socialist Party, Patxi Lopez, is set to become the head of the regional Basque government following local elections in March.

Lopez will be the first Basque government leader who unequivocally backs the region's unity with Spain since it was granted wide autonomy in 1979.

The Basque region has been run for nearly 30 years by the moderately nationalist PNV party on a platform flirting with independence.

AFP / Expatica

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