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French police find more suspected ETA hiding places

Source: Reuters - Tue 25th Aug 2009

French police have discovered three underground hiding places believed to belong to the Basque separatist group ETA in southern France in a widening crackdown on the militants, a judicial source said Monday.

One of the hiding places contained 240 kg of ammonium nitrate, which can be used to make explosives, the source said. Another held fake car number plates and the third was empty.

In a major anti-ETA operation that began with a tip-off from Spanish police, French police have raided caches in forests, villages and resorts in southern France, turning up weapons, ammunition, detonators and explosives.

On the first day of the raids last Wednesday, French police arrested three suspected ETA members who were wanted by Spanish authorities after a car bomb attack on the island of Mallorca in late July that killed two Civil Guards.

That bombing followed an attack two days earlier in the northern Spanish city of Burgos that wounded 50 people in a Civil Guard family quarters.

Spanish security forces believe ETA, weakened by the arrests of several leaders and long relatively quiet, has been trying to put on a show of force to prove it is still able to strike at the Spanish state.

ETA has been fighting for half a century to carve out an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France.

While polls indicate most Basques seem to favour some sort of independence for their mountainous region, which already has considerable autonomy in Spain, support for violence has slipped in recent years.

The Socialist government in Madrid broke off peace talks with ETA after the rebels killed two people with a car bomb at Madrid airport in December 2006. The group has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in the past 40 years.

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