Spanish police arrest nine alleged ETA collaborators

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Spanish police arrested nine suspected senior collaborators of Basque separatist group ETA in overnight raids, the interior ministry said Tuesday.

It was the first swoop against ETA since September 5 when the group declared a unilateral ceasefire, which was swiftly rejected by the Spanish government because it failed to promise a permanent end to violence.

Police detained the nine members of Ekin, an ETA support group that was declared illegal by Spain's National Court in 2007, in raids in the Basque country, Navarra, Cantabria and Aragon, the ministry said in a statement.

"This demonstrates that the government's position has not changed in the fight against ETA," Justice Minister Francisco Caamano told reporters.

"Security forces and public prosecutors maintain their determination in the fight against terrorism with rigour and judges continue to apply the law."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has demanded that ETA give up weapons forever.

And the interior ministry has vowed to keep its hardline policy against the group.

ETA's decades-long campaign of bombing and shooting for a homeland independent of Spain has claimed more than 800 lives.

Listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006.

But in December 2006 ETA set off a bomb at a car park at Madrid's airport, killing two men. In June 2007 it formally called off its ceasefire citing a lack of concessions by the government in peace talks.

Since then, the government has taken a hard line against the group and its political wing, Batasuna, arresting dozens of members including the top leadership.

Police searched the homes and offices used by the suspected Ekin members detained overnight and the "operation remains open", the interior ministry said.

Among those detained overnight was Ekin's new leader, Eneko Compains Silva, public radio RNE said.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the operation had reduced ETA's capacity to act.

"This operation has succeeded in diminishing ETA's ability to exercise its command over its political framework and reduces part of its capacity for social mobilization," he said.

Ekin is considered by Spanish police as the "heart and entrails of ETA." It is believed to act as an organiser for ETA, stirring up street protests and spreading the militants' message.

The arrests come one day after a Spanish court sentence a former military chief of ETA, Gorka Palacios Aldai, to 83 years in prison for killing a police officer in a 2001 attack in Madrid.

Aldai, who was arrested in France in December 2003, was found guilty of slaying police officer Luis Ortiz de la Rosa in a "terrorist assassination".

© 2010 AFP

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