Two ETA members received training in Venezuela: court

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Two suspected members of the armed Basque separatist movement ETA arrested in Spain last week have said they received weapons training in Venezuela, a court document released Monday showed.

During police questioning following their arrest the two detainees, Juan Carlos Besance and Javier Atristain, said they took part in the training course in July and August 2008, according to court papers obtained by AFP.

The course involved training in marksmanship, disassembling and cleaning guns and communicating in code, they said. It was offered by other ETA members in Venezuela as well as Chilean and Venezuelan citizens.

The two said they also met with Arturo Cubillas, who is thought to be the ETA representative for Venezuela and other Latin American countries, while in Venezuela.

Cubillas was given a senior post in the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2005.

ETA members still receive training in Venezuela, the two suspects added during police questioning, according to the court papers.

Police detained the two on Wednesday along with a third suspected ETA member in the Basque town of Villabona and seized 101 kilos (223 pounds) of explosives, a gun and several detonators and timers as part of the operation.

Venezuela's ambassador to Spain, Isaias Rodriguez, swiftly denied any links between Venezuela and ETA.

"The Venezuelan government is not linked in any way with any terrorist organisation, especially ETA," he told Spanish public radio.

Spain has asked Venezuelan authorities to provide any information it may have regarding the training of suspected ETA members in the former Spanish colony, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in March rejected allegations from a Spanish judge that his government had helped ETA members link up with members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The judge had charged seven members of Colombia's FARC rebels and six members of ETA with plotting to assassinate former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and other Colombian officials while in Spain.

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.

It is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, amongst others.

© 2010 AFP

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