Bordeaux: Basque separatist arrested as Spain confronts region's future

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun May 25 14:40:08 UTC 2008

Basque separatist arrested as Spain confronts region's future

The arrest of Francisco Javier Lopez Pea in France on Tuesday signals a
wider crackdown against the ETA, which has waged a 40-year campaign of
By Jonathan Adams

In a setback for one of Europe's longest-running armed independence
movements, the suspected chief of the Basque separatist group ETA was
arrested earlier this week. Francisco Javier Lopez Pea, who is also known
as "Thierry," was seized in a raid in Bordeaux, France, by Spanish and
French police late Tuesday night. Three other ETA suspects were also
captured. The ETA "Euskadi ta Askatasuna," or "Basque Country and Freedom"
in the Basque language has waged a violent struggle for independence for
40 years. ETA has been labeled a terrorist organization, and Spanish Prime
Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called the arrest "another important
step in the victory of democracy against terror," reports the Associated

The Washington Post reports that two more ETA suspects were captured
Wednesday, signaling a broader crackdown against the underground group.
While the Spanish government singled Mr. Lopez Pea out as ETA's leader, it
cautioned that the group was still dangerous, reports the BBC.

Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba hailed the arrest. He
said Mr Lopez Pea was "in all probability, the person who carried the most
weight within Eta - politically and militarily".

But he emphasized that the group remained a threat.

"This is a very important operation, because it involves very important
leaders, so it should have a big effect. But I insist that Eta could still
cause a lot of harm," he said.

ETA had claimed credit for two recent attacks. On Monday, a car bomb
ripped through Bilbao, the capital of Basque Spain, damaging several
buildings. No one was injured in that attack. On May 14, a bomb attack
killed one policeman and injured four others in Legutiano, also in the
Basque region.

The Marxist-Leninist ETA has long struggled to create an independent
Basque nation along the border between Spain and France. Its attacks have
killed more than 800 people since 1968, mostly in car bombings and
shootings, according to Reuters.

Britain's The Daily Telegraph reports that Thierry may have taken the
reins of ETA in 2006 and was key to the group's decision to end a
cease-fire announced that year and turn its back on a budding peace

Pea, who has used the alias Thierry and been on the run since 1983, is
suspected of being the mastermind behind a series of recent attacks that
began with a car bomb at Madrid international airport in December 2006
that killed two people and brought an abrupt end to a fledgling peace

He is believed to have taken over Eta's underground leadership in 2006
when the group was holding peace talks with the government of Mr Zapatero.
According to Spanish media, Pea, 49, participated in the talks but then
decided to end the ceasefire.

The Spanish newspaper Publico writes that Pea once said "They will never
catch me," but was wrong to think that his security measures and claim to
French nationality would protect him, according to the Spain Papers Review
at the website

EuroNews reports the successful raids on ETA suspects were the fruit of
close cooperation between Spain and France.

ETA are considered terrorists by Spain, America, and the European Union.
ETA activists have long used South-western France as a base, while
attacking targets over the border in Spain. In December last year, two
young Spanish officers working undercover in France were shot dead by ETA
suspects in a cafe on the French Atlantic coast.

Agence France-Presse reports that the three other suspects captured with
Thierry were: Jon Salaberria, Igor Suberbiola, and Ainhoa Zaeta Mendiondo.
The Spanish interior minister said all were "important leaders" of ETA.

Salaberria, a former regional lawmaker for ETA's now-banned political wing
Batasuna, has been accused of financing the Basque separatist movement.

Suberbiola was a member of a Basque independence youth movement close to
ETA before going underground.

Ainhoa Ozaeta is believed to be the masked woman who read a statement in
an ETA video last year that officially called off a permanent ceasefire
announced in March 2006.

On Tuesday, the Spanish government rejected a plan by the local Basque
government to hold a referendum on talks over the region's status, Reuters

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he told the head of the
Basque Country regional government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, that the plan
violated the Spanish constitution, during a meeting which took place as
Basque separatist rebels ETA stage a bombing offensive.

The scene is now set for a confrontation later in the year if Ibarretxe
tries to push ahead with the referendum in which he hopes Basques will
vote to authorise talks between local political parties on the region's

The issue could dominate regional elections due by next year.

In March, following the ruling Socialists' victory in national elections,
The Christian Science Monitor reported that the party won despite
criticism of being "soft on terror."

Compared with their conservative rivals, the Popular Party, Spain's
Socialists are seen as more tolerant of autonomy drives in both the Basque
area and Catalonia.

Significantly, as well, the Socialists scored the first-ever majority win
by a national party in Catalonia and the Basque area  regions where local
parties seeking greater autonomy or independence have long been most
influential. The Socialist scores in these two most vibrant economies in
Spain  whose capitals are Barcelona and Bilbao  suggest that the party's
policies of gradually greater autonomy, much criticized by the Popular
Party, may have gained traction.


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