Spain arrests seven suspects of ETA international network

28th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spanish police arrested seven suspects Tuesday in night raids on the international arm of Basque separatists ETA, an official said, showing no let-up in a wounding crackdown on the band.

It was the latest in a string of arrests including members of the top leadership of ETA, blamed for 829 deaths in more than 40 years of fighting for a Basque homeland independent of Spain.

"The only thing I can tell you for the moment is that there have been seven arrests," said an Interior Ministry spokeswoman.

"They are linked with the international apparatus of ETA," she said.

The Spanish government has vowed to eradicate ETA unless it unilaterally and unconditionally renounces violence and disarms.

It has rejected a series of ETA statements in past weeks offering a ceasefire in the right conditions.

Spanish media said the seven detained were believed to be members of the radical Askapena group acting as the foreign propaganda branch of ETA. They are reportedly accused of the crime of being members of the armed group.

According to the El Pais daily, Askapena operates in countries in Europe, Central America and South America, seeking support for ETA, strengthening ties with similar groups or providing cover for fleeing ETA members.

The police operation could reveal details about relations of ETA members and their supporters in various Latin American organizations including the Colombian rebels FARC, the paper said.

Details about the structure of Askapena had been found in papers of former ETA chief Franciso Javier Lopez Pena, alias Thierry, who was arrested in Bordeaux in May 2008, it said.

The government believes its campaign against ETA, with dozens of arrests made in cooperation with forces in other countries, particularly France, has seriously weakened ETA's operational capacity.

ETA has sent a series of signals indicating a willingness to declare a permanent ceasefire in the right conditions.

But the government refuses any negotiation, recalling that ETA broke a ceasefire promise in 2006 when it set off a bomb in Madrid airport's car park and killed two people.

In the past few weeks ETA has made three announcements, all rejected by the government.

-- In a September 5 video declaration, ETA said it had decided several months ago to halt armed offensive actions. It made no mention of a permanent end to the violence.

-- On September 19 ETA called for international mediation to resolve the Basque question, referring to a group of international mediators who had urged the group to declare a permanent, verifiable ceasefire.

-- On Sunday, the Basque newspaper Gara quoted two masked ETA members as saying they were ready to observe a permanent, verifiable ceasefire "in the right conditions" and calling for talks with Basque parties and civic groups.

Pressure on ETA to give up the armed struggle is building, however, not only from the police but also its political wing Batasuna, which was ruled illegal in 2003 due to its links with ETA.

Batasuna, which wants the ban on its activities lifted so it can take part in municipal elections next year, called on Saturday for ETA to show its willingness to definitively abandon arms.

© 2010 AFP

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