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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 19:16 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: ETA on the defensive

Pamplona graffiti: "PP (government) doesn't want peace, wants murder"

By Daniel Schweimler in Madrid

The Spanish authorities are jubilant at the capture of a number of leading members of the Basque separatist organization, ETA, in the past week.

Among those arrested in Paris was Josť Javier Arizcuren Ruiz, one of Spain's most wanted men, suspected of involvement in a number of high-profile ETA operations in recent years.

[ image:
"Kantauri" arrested in Paris on Tuesday
The following day Spanish police arrested Sergio Polo in the north-east city of San Sebastian, announcing that they had broken the ETA cell that operated in that region.

A number of other arrests followed and all Herri Batasuna (HB), ETA's political wing, could do was shout from the sidelines.

The HB leadership has accused the government of using force because it had no other argument. It said Spain was destroying the peace process.

Many Spaniards expected an immediate response from the separatists and an end to the six-month-old ceasefire.

But, apart from a few cases of low-level street violence in the Basque region, that has not happened.

Gambling with ceasefire

Meanwhile, the government in Madrid has been arguing that its actions had in fact strengthened the peace process.

It said the ETA members who had been arrested were preparing for what it called fresh acts of terrorism - perhaps a high-profile kidnapping - to prove ETA still has some strength.

Previous successful operations against ETA had not provoked violence, the government argued, but had had the opposite effect, culminating in last year's declaration of an ETA ceasefire.

[ image: Many Basque people reject violence]
Many Basque people reject violence
When the ceasefire was announced, there was great optimism in the Basque region that a lasting peace was in sight after 30 years of conflict in which hundreds have died.

Some Basques want to see full independence and will do anything to achieve it. Others argue for a more peaceful approach, while many feel they already enjoy a sufficient degree of autonomy and want to stay part of Spain.

There is no easy solution. The Spanish authorities probably do not know for sure just how much damage the arrests of the past week have done to ETA.

But they do now feel they can negotiate from a position of strength.

The authorities' strong action against ETA was a gamble. Now they are waiting to see if it has paid off.

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