Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

SPAIN: Judge Garzon Swoops Down on ETA Youth Group

Tito Drago

MADRID, Mar 6 2001 (IPS) - Spain’s famous “human rights” judge Baltasar Garzón personally led a police operation Tuesday in the Basque Country and Navarra that ended in the arrest of 15 leaders of Haika, the youth organisation that backs the terrorist Basque separatist group ETA, and supplies it with militants.

Garzón, renowned for his efforts to bring major international human rights violators like former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice, and the director of the national police, Juan Cotino, coordinated an operation involving 300 agents in the Basque cities of Hernani, Bilbao and Vitoria, and in Pamplona, the capital of the Autonomous Community of Navarra.

While Basque nationalists consider Navarra part of the Basque country, voters in that province opted in a 1980 referendum to become one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities instead.

Haika arose from a Feb 17 merger of Jarrai, in Spain’s Basque country, and Gasteriak, in France’s Basque country – two youth groups that back ETA with “Kale borroka” (street violence, in the Basque language).

The operation headed by Garzón was named “Sugekumea”, or “the serpent’s young” in Basque – an allusion to ETA’s symbol, a snake wrapped around an axe.

Garzón believes Haika is subordinate to and answers to ETA, for which it serves as a “source of terrorists.”

As police have become more effective in cracking down on ETA, the age of detainees has dropped, and most of those arrested in recent years have been under 30.

Police sources said the eight people detained in Bilbao, four in Hernani, two in Vitoria and one in Pamplona – all of whom were over 18 – were the top leaders of Haika. Garzón will charge them with belonging to an armed group.

According to the police, Jarrai and Gasteriak, and more recently Haika, have practiced street violence since 1990, setting fire to banks, businesses, telephone booths, public transit vehicles, and the homes of non-nationalist journalists and political leaders, and even of moderate nationalists.

That violence, “exercised against society as a whole,” according to an Interior Ministry communique, left ETA free to concentrate on what it calls “the nucleus of the conflict” – in other words, indiscriminate murders.

David Pla Martín, Igor Solana Matarranz, Harriet Iragi Gurruchaga, Iñaki Beaumont Echevarría and Iñigo Guridi Lasa are all members of the youth groups who were arrested and tried over the past year in connection with violent incidents.

All of them were acting under the direction of Francisco Javier García Gaztelu, alias “Txapote”, who was arrested in France in early February, and who years before had been detained in Spain’s Basque country for his “Kale borroka” activities.

According to the Interior Ministry, membership in Haika is “the baptism of fire and the school of the terrorists.”

Juan Cotino said the youngsters “start out throwing rocks, then molotov cocktails, and eventually pick up a pistol or wire a car-bomb.” Documents implicating the detainees, who were driven to Madrid, were seized in Tuesday’s police operation.

While most political parties backed the crackdown on Haika, the Euskal Herritarrok coalition, ETA’s political wing, complained that it was an attack on the independence of leftist movements.

The London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International is conducting a campaign outside Spain to pressure ETA and Euskal Herritarrok with the aim of getting the terrorist group to abandon all forms of violence.

The campaign is not being carried out within Spain because in accordance with an Amnesty International norm, national offices do not participate in activities involving their own countries. The campaign, to run through June, was announced by the organisation’s assistant secretary-general Vincent del Buono in December.

Amnesty has sent letters to parliamentarian and ETA member José Antonio Urrutikoetxea, better known as “Josu Ternera”, and to imprisoned ETA members José Antonio Ruiz, “Kubati”, and José Javier Arizkuren Ruiz, “Kantauri”.

Del Bosco said the letters were sent to those individuals because they could more easily bring Amnesty’s concern, and its demand for an immediate halt to the violence, to the attention of the Basque separatist group.

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