ETA suspected of car bombing in Basque town


SPAIN: A member of the Ertzaintza, the Basque police force, was slightly injured yesterday in a car bomb that damaged several cars and broke windows in the Basque town of Getxo.

Getxo, a smart residential suburb of Bilbao popular with wealthy businessmen and politicians, has been an ETA target on several occasions.

Five car bombs have exploded in the town in the past five years, and the son of a leading industrialist was kidnapped outside his home there in 2003.

The Basque newspaper Gara, frequently used by ETA for its communiques, received a call yesterday at 2 p.m. giving the location of the car and warning it would be detonated in half an hour. Twenty minutes later, as the Ertzaintza were cordoning off the area, the bomb exploded.

The owner of the Peugeot 306 used for the bomb had been kidnapped by the terrorists earlier in the day and was later found unharmed and tied to a tree in the mountains outside Bilbao.

Yesterday's attack was almost certainly the work of ETA and comes amid rumours in Spain that the terrorists were preparing to announce a truce as a prelude to talks. Over the past couple of years the separatist organisation has seen its operating capacity seriously weakened by the arrest of many of its leaders and militants and the seizure of arms, explosives and ammunition in both Spain and France.

On Monday, a senior government official told The Irish Times that although it was too soon to consider talks, there have been hopeful signs over recent weeks. "Our impression is that they could be serious, and we must act as if they are. But a mere ceasefire would not be enough. ETA would have to make it clear they are prepared to lay down their arms once and for all. We can't forget that there have been many victims and many years of suffering in Spain," he said.

Last weekend an ETA communique contained clear signs that it was considering a change of tactics, but made no mention of any readiness to lay down arms. The communique welcomed remarks made by Mr Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the banned pro-ETA Batasuna party, who had called for moves "to take the conflict off the streets and on to the negotiating tables".