Two ETA political leaders arrested in southern France

22nd September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Two political leaders of the Basque separatist group ETA were arrested in France on Tuesday in what Spain's interior minister hailed as the group's "decapitation".

David Pla, 40, and a woman, Iratxe Sorzabal, 43, were seized in the Pyrenees village of Saint-Etienne-de-Baigorry in southwest France, one of ETA's strongholds.

The joint operation between French and Spanish police "completes the decapitation of ETA", Spain's interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told reporters as he arrived for a meeting in Brussels.

A French police source said Sorzabal had been wanted for "at least 10 years" while Pla had been on the run since 2011.

Sorzabal was from 1997 to 1999 the spokesman for Gestoras, a support group for Basque prisoners. He been sentenced to several prison terms several times in France in recent years.

Two lower-level members of the ETA were also arrested in the operation.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy welcomed the arrests and said on Twitter: "There is only one course for ETA: its unconditional disbandment."

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaría told reporters that the arrests showed "terrorism can be defeated".

For four decades ETA fought a bloody campaign for an independent Basque homeland in the area populated by Basque speakers in northern Spain and southwest France.

It is listed as a banned terrorist group by the European Union (EU) and has been held responsible for the deaths of 829 people during its on-off campaign of gun and bomb attacks on mainly Spanish targets.

Traditionally, ETA had used France as a rear base for attacks on Spain, but strengthened cross-border police cooperation has helped to weaken it considerably.

In 2011, the group announced it had halted its armed activities, but it has refused to hand over its weapons or dissolve the organisation, as demanded by governments in both countries.

It began a unilateral disarmament programme in early 2014, in cooperation with the International Verification Commission, an independent group of experts from various countries that has not been officially recognised by the Spanish government.

© 2015 AFP

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