MADRID // The Spanish civil guard launched a dawn operation against ETA, the armed separatist group, in the northern Basque country today, resulting in seven arrests and the dismantling of the group's highly active Vizcaya unit, Spanish media reported. The operation started around 0300am local time (0400am UAE) and was continuing, public television said. It covered several towns and villages in the Vizcaya region around Bilbao.
The civil guard was not immediately available to confirm the reports. ETA, considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, is blamed for 823 deaths in its 40-year campaign for Basque independence. It has been accused of planting four small bombs that exploded on Sunday in the neighbouring region of Cantabria, targeting tourist infrastructure. ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in March 2006, raising hopes for an end to the violence.
But an ETA bombing at Madrid's airport in December 2006 that killed two men put an end to tentative peace talks with the government. The group officially terminated the ceasefire in June last year, and since then the Spanish government has blamed it for four killings including civil guards across the French border. *AFP