Expatica news

ETA row looms between Spain and Belgium

17 March 2004

BRUSSELS – Spain and Belgium were on course for a serious diplomatic row on Wednesday after a Brussels judge freed a couple Madrid suspects of supporting the Basque separatist group ETA.

Spain has asked repeatedly for the Basque couple – Luis Noreno and Raquel Garcia – to be extradited from Belgium to face the ETA charges back in their home country.

But in the early hours of Wednesday morning Belgian investigating magistrate Thierry Freyne released the two after questioning them for several hours following another extradition request form Spain.

The magistrate argued he saw no reason to keep the couple in custody any longer.

Officially, Madrid has made no comment on the decision other than to say that it is up to the judicial authorities in Belgium and Spain to resolve the matter.

But Expatica spoke to one diplomat at the Spanish embassy in Brussels who did little to hide his opinion of the magistrate’s decision.

“We will now have to ask him why he saw fit to free people suspected of belonging to a terrorist organisation,” he said tersely.

At the beginning of the 1990s Noreno and Garcia are suspected of having harboured members of an ETA cell that was later found guilty of murdering a Spanish policeman.

The couple have lived in Belgium for 10 years and obtained Belgian nationality in 2001.

Spain made its latest request for the pair to be extradited in February using the new European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which is supposed to speed up extradition procedures between EU member states.

The EAW formed part of a raft of new EU law and order measures that were rushed through after the September 11 2001 terror attacks in the US.

The news of Noreno and Garcia’s release is likely to be particularly embarrassing for Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

Immediately after last week’s bomb attacks in Madrid, he said EU countries must work together even more closely to fight the threat of terrorism.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Belgian news