Spain says top Basque separatist leader arrested in France
The Spanish Interior Ministry has announced French police have arrested a top leader for the Basque separatist movement ETA.
Isaskun Lesaka, which the ministry says is one of “the three main leaders” of ETA, was arrested with another alleged ETA member, Joseba Iturbe Ochoteco, by an elite French police unit at a hotel near Mâcon, 70 kilometres north of Lyon.
Both were carrying weapons, according to a ministry statement.
The statement also says the arrest came after a joint operation between Spanish and French police.
The arrest is a new coup on ETA, which has seen a series of arrests in recent months after announcing a year ago that it would end all violence in its 40-year fight to establish an independent Basque nation in northern Spain and south-western France.
The Spanish Interior Ministry says Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz has spoken to his French counterpart, Manuel Valls, to thank him for his "decisive help".
For his part, Valls has stressed the importance of further joint operations.
The arrests have been condemned by Basque independence activists.
“It is totally incomprehensible that, a year after [announcing the end to violence], political arrests continue,” a statement from the Basque nationalist group Left Abertzale says.
Born in Pamplona in 1975, Izaskun Lesaka is, according to Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, the head of ETA’s military wing.
She had been on the run since 2005, staying in hotels and small bed-and-breakfasts in order to avoid detection.
In January, she was sentenced to seven years jail by a French court.
Although ETA has vowed to abandon violence, it has refused to disband and disarm.
There are only dozens of active members left.
ETA is listed by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organisation. It has been held for the deaths of 829 people through bombing and other attacks.
Its last attack on Spanish soil was in August 2009.