Former leader to return as ETA chief: Spanish media

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A fugitive former ETA chief, who headed the Basque separatist group during failed negotiations with the Spanish government, is on the verge of returning as its leader, reports said on Monday.

Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, known as Josu Ternera, has "returned to the command structures of ETA to take over its political apparatus," the newspaper El Mundo said, without quoting its sources.

Spanish public radio gave the same information, quoting anti-terrorist sources.

Josu Ternera, who is in hiding, has been the subject of an international arrest warrant since 2002.

He is believed to back dialogue with the government and is close to Arnaldo Otegi, the jailed spokesman of Batasuna, ETA's banned political wing.

He was shunted aside as the head of ETA leader in late 2006 after failed negotiations with Spain's Socialist government as more hardline elements took control.

Ternera's return as head of ETA, which is expected this week, could bring "a total change in the political set-up of the group," in particular concerning future decisions, El Mundo said.

Public radio emphasized that the return of "veterans" like Ternera "does not necessarily indicate that the process leading to the end of terrorism will be faster."

The reports come as ETA is under pressure from Batasuna to announce "a unilateral permanent and verifiable ceasefire."

Batasuna on Saturday announced plans for a new party that will reject the use of violence in the hope of standing in elections next year.

ETA announced on September 5 it had halted "armed offensive actions" but did not make clear if this was a permanent or temporary move. Two weeks later it called on international mediators to help resolve the decades-old conflict.

The Spanish government said the announcements were insufficient and ETA had to abandon violence definitively and unconditionally.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in its four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings to force the creation of a Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

© 2010 AFP

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