‘ETA determined to carry on its struggle’
Following the shootout involving a suspected ETA member in Paris Tuesday, FRANCE 24 talks to an expert on the Basque separatist movement, Jacques Massey (pictured), author of “ETA – the history of a hundred-year war”.
FRANCE24: On Tuesday night an alleged member of Basque separatist group ETA was arrested in Paris after a shootout in which a French policeman was shot dead. In February, a senior member of the group was arrested in Normandy. Does this mean that the group’s operations in France have shifted from its traditional heartlands in the south-west to the north?
Jacques Massey: The fact that ETA militants are showing up in the Paris region is nothing new, and in fact has been the case throughout the group’s history. The north of France allows for much more discretion in terms of hiding materiel and people than in the Basque region [in south-western France] itself. The arrest of Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui in Normandy is very significant and shows that ETA is developing its infrastructure more and more in the north.
F24: How much do we know about 27-year-old Joseba Fernandez Aspurz, the latest ETA member to be arrested?
JM: Aspurz operated in the Basque region [in Spain], until quite recently, without having to stay in hiding. But after he was reported as wanted by the Spanish police for violence he had to leave the country and go underground in France, which is ETA’s traditional rear-base. Group members operating underground are absorbed by the group’s structure to organise new cells. It’s a complete surprise that he emerged in an operation just one-and a-half months after he went underground.
It is perhaps his inexperience that explains how the shootout developed. It is likely this was a knee-jerk reaction to a specific situation, rather than a politically motivated killing. ETA members are always armed, but the rule is that the weapon should never be used. Either this rule has changed or this incident shows how inexperienced he was. In any case, I do not think that ETA has declared a war on the French police.
F24: In a recent report, the Spanish police described ETA as an organisation “standing at the edge of the abyss”, stressing the inexperience of the new generation of its leadership. Is this latest incident the start of ETA’s swan song?
JM: The Spanish police have been saying this for the past 20 years. What is true is that the rate of arrests is definitely up. A cell leader used to be active for two to three years. Their “life expectancy” is now more realistically a few months because of the pressure the police are bringing down on them.
In the organisation each post is filled by two people, so if one goes down there is always a second to step into his shoes. Despite this, the cooperation of the French and Spanish police is having a big effect on the ETA’s strategic capabilities.
But while the Basque question remains unresolved I cannot see the group giving up its armed struggle. Yesterday’s shootout is not good news for those in the Basque country who are talking more and more about finding a political solution through dialogue, as took place in Northern Ireland with the IRA. But it shows that ETA remains determined to carry on its struggle.
Crédit photo : Arnaud Février © Flammarion