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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
'Eta leaders' arrested in France
French anti-terrorist judge, escorted by policemen and bodyguards, outside the house of Spanish truck driver
Arms and ammunition were found during the raids
French police say they have arrested two of the most senior figures in the outlawed Basque separatist group, Eta.

Mikel Albizu, known as Antza, and his partner, Maria Soledad Iparraguirre, were among at least 18 people detained in a swoop in south-western France.

Officials said the operation was possibly the most significant blow against Eta in years.

The Spanish authorities say the arrests have probably saved dozens if not hundreds of lives.

High-profile

The BBC's Katya Adler in Madrid says Mr Albizu is thought to be one of the most senior political figures in Eta.

His partner, Maria Soledad Iparraguirre, is one of the group's leading female figures.

The couple, both aged 43, had been on the run from Spanish justice for more than 10 years.

They were seized near the town of Pau, according to the Associated Press.

Their arrests were part of a series made in border villages along the French border where Eta militants have long sought refuge.

The suspects were captured in towns including Saint Pierre d'Irubek, Briscous, Ayherre and Hendaye, Spain's interior ministry said in a statement.

Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso says the raid is hugely important and an example of outstanding collaboration between the two countries.

Improved French and Spanish ties since the 11 September attacks have led to several high-profile Eta arrests, our correspondent says.

Spanish authorities now describe Eta as considerably weakened but still dangerous.

The armed group has been fighting for more than 30 years for an independent Basque state.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Police say they have arrested key Eta members




SEE ALSO:
Eta 'border team' held in Spain
29 Sep 04  |  Europe
Mexico to extradite Eta suspects
31 Jul 04  |  Americas
Who are Eta?
11 Apr 04  |  Europe
Eta: Key events
11 Apr 04  |  Europe



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