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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Brotherly love helps ETA suspect escape
Helicopter used in an earlier prison escape in France
Many recent escapes have involved helicopters
A leading Basque separatist has managed to escape from one of France's best-known jails after his brother took his place in his prison cell.

The escaped man, Ismael Berasategui Escudero, is regarded by the Spanish authorities as one of the leading members of ETA.

Paris map
The two managed to swap places during a prison visit last Saturday, but warders at La Santé prison in Paris only realised what had happened on Thursday morning.

BBC Paris correspondent James Coomarasamy says this was no small feat in one of the highest security jails in the country.

The escaped prisoner was arrested in the Ardeche in May and was being held in connection with a series of car bomb attacks in the Basque region of Spain.

His brother is said to bear a close resemblance to his sibling.

In recent years, France has seen a rash of spectacular prison escapes, most of which have involved helicopters.

Our correspondent says this one may have been less dramatic, but is perhaps rather more embarrassing for the French authorities.

'Tensions'

France's national prison officer's union said in a statement that the escape should not come as a surprise because there were not enough staff in prison establishments.

It said the anti-crime campaign adopted by the recently-elected centre-right government had sharply increased prison populations, compounding the pressure.

"Prisons are on the verge of exploding, with lots of tensions between personnel and inmates," said the union.

It added that there were 55,000 inmates for just 48,000 prison places, and that six prison workers had been attacked in less than a week.

ETA has claimed responsibility for more than 800 deaths during its 34-year campaign to create an independent Basque homeland out of territory in northern Spain and south-west France.

Spain, the European Union and the United States consider it a terrorist group.

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The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"In recent years France has seen a rash of spectacular prison escapes"
See also:

05 Aug 02 | Europe
28 May 01 | Europe
27 Oct 00 | Crossing Continents
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