MADRID — Nine people accused of heading an offshoot of Basque separatist group ETA were arrested early Tuesday, the Spanish press reported.
The arrests came a week after ETA declared a ceasefire in their flagging, decades-long campaign of bombing and shooting for a homeland independent of Spain.
The daily El Mundo said the civil guard had picked up nine members of the national leadership of Ekin, the structure that “prepares and sends out the directives of ETA.”
Tha arrests took place in the Basque country and Navarra province in the north of Spain, reports said.
El Pais said “at least nine” leaders of Ekin had been arrested in a civil guard operation “that remains open”.
In December 2007 Spanish courts handed members of Ekin and other ETA offshoots sentences of up to 24 years, which were later reduced by the supreme court.
Ekin is considered by Spanish police as the “heart and entrails of ETA.”
On September 5 ETA reaffirmed “its commitment to finding a democratic solution to the conflict” in the northern Basque region.
But Spain’s government rejected the announcement as totally inadequate and demanded ETA renounce guns and bombs forever in its battle for an independent homeland.
ETA, banned as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, is blamed for 829 deaths in its 42-year campaign for independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.
It announced a “permanent ceasefire” in March 2006, and shortly afterwards Spain’s Socialist government said it was launching tentative peace talks with the outfit.
But in December 2006 the group set off a bomb at a car park at Madrid’s airport, killing two men from Ecuador, and 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.