French police locate last major ETA weapons cache

The Basque terrorist group was thought to be planning to hand over the weapons

Carlos Yárnoz
Guardias civiles, camino del desmantelamiento de un zulo.
Guardias civiles, camino del desmantelamiento de un zulo.Guardia Civil

The French police on Wednesday discovered the last major weapons store belonging to Basque terrorist organization ETA. The cache was located in a forest next to Compiègne, in the Oise department, north of Paris. Arms, documents and other materials were located hidden in four large buried containers. Small arms such as revolvers and rifles were among the haul.

There is a lot of material there, and it was preferable to act now French police sources

According to police sources, the operation was carried out after a number of communications were intercepted. “There is a lot of material there, and it was preferable to act now,” say the same sources.

The few ETA members that remain on the run – around a dozen, according to police sources – were bringing together all of their weapons in one location in order to be able to hand them over in the presence of international intermediaries, sources say. There are, reportedly, still arms caches left to discover. In some cases, not even active ETA members are aware of their locations.

The cache discovered on Wednesday had been put together over a period of weeks, but no one has been close to the store in recent days.

The terrorist group, which waged a bloody campaign over 43 years that cost 850 lives, was fighting for independence for the northern Basque Country region from Spain. However, weakened by operations by Spanish and French forces, it opted to announce the end of its armed struggle nearly five years ago. It has not, however, dissolved nor handed over its weapons.

Recently, the terrorist group and several French politicians who are linked to radical left so-called abertzale politicians in the Basque Country, have sent letters to the French government stating their willingness to bring about a final end to ETA. High-ranking French politicians, some of whom are close to President François Hollande, have stated that they are in favor of exploring dialogue with the current leaders of the group. But other members of the government have rejected such a reconciliation, which in theory could conclude with the handing over of weapons. Among the latter are Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Ministry chief Bernard Cazenueve, according to sources who have close knowledge of the preliminary contacts.

In coordination with the Spanish authorities, the French police were aware of these steps being taken, but decided to act and seize the weapons cache in Compiègne, in which there was also material that could have been used to carry out attacks.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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