Evidence emerges of ETA cooperating with FARC (News Feature)
By Sinikka Tarvainen Mar 2, 2010, 12:46 GMT
Madrid - Allegations by a Spanish judge that Venezuela was helping an alliance of the militant Basque separatist group ETA with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) created diplomatic tensions Tuesday.
Spain and a former Colombian president requested an explanation from Caracas, while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed judge Eloy Velasco's report as a trace of Spanish colonialism and as part of a US campaign to discredit his government.
The judicial document issued by Velasco focused on the relations between FARC and ETA, charging a total of 13 suspects from both groups with planning attacks against Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, his predecessor Andres Pastrana and other Colombian personalities visiting or living in Spain.
So far, there had only been rumours and unconfirmed reports about contacts between ETA and FARC, but Velasco had supplied the first clear evidence' of their existence, Pastrana said.
ETA and FARC both have far-left ideologies. But otherwise, the European nationalist group with only a few dozen gunmen might appear to have little in common with the Latin American guerrilla army comprising thousands of soldiers.
Yet in 2008, the Colombian authorities found dozens of messages containing references to ETA in the computer of Raul Reyes, FARC's second-in-command who was killed in an army air raid.
A few months later, Spanish police investigators travelled to Colombia, according to media reports.
The Spanish government has nevertheless called for prudence' in evaluating the possibility of links between FARC and ETA, while Colombian officials have occasionally been less cautious.
The contacts were an unarguable' fact, police chief Oscar Naranjo said, explaining that communication between Latin American and European terrorism passes basically through Spain with ETA.'
ETA had promised FARC help in locating Colombians who could be attacked in Spain in exchange for being given military training at FARC camps, according to judge Velasco, who works at Spain's anti- terrorism National Court.
FARC and ETA have even discussed the possibility of the Basques carrying out attacks and kidnappings on behalf of the Colombian guerrillas in Europe, the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser reported in 2008.
Velasco said ETA and FARC had maintained contacts at least since the early 1990s, making them more official in 1999.
ETA has instructed FARC in making grenades, using mobile phones to set off explosives, urban guerrilla tactics and even in using ground- to-air missiles, according to the judge.
FARC has shared information about its tactics, and given ETA members military training in Colombian and Venezuelan forests, Velasco said.
Italian author and mafia expert Roberto Saviano has even claimed that ETA obtains part of its financing by trafficking with cocaine supplied by FARC, which is heavily involved in the Colombian drug trade.
Velasco's inquiry implicated Venezuela, which Colombia has long suspected of aiding FARC.
A senior ETA representative in Venezuela coordinating relations with FARC had been given high-level posts in Chavez' government, Velasco said.
The judge also pointed out that Venezuelan soldiers allegedly accompanied ETA members to FARC training camps in the country bordering on Colombia in 2007.
In 2006, Caracas planned to grant Venezuelan nationality to four suspected ETA members, including a man who was detained with ETA's leader Ibon Gogeaskoetxea in France last Sunday, according to Spanish media.
Caracas backtracked under Spanish pressure, the reports said.
Chavez dismissed Velasco's claims as 'sad remains' of Spanish colonialism and as part of a campaign by the 'Yankee empire' to discredit his government, while Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro promised his Spanish counterpart to look into the allegations.
Yet tension began mounting over the affair, with Pastrana joining Spain in asking Chavez to give an explanation, while Spain's conservative opposition slammed Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government over what it regarded as its excessively close relations with Venezuela.
The affair broke just one day after Spanish and French police dealt a heavy blow to ETA by capturing Gogeaskoetxea and two other ETA suspects in northern France.
Constant arrests of ETA leaders have weakened the group in Europe, and Spanish police fear it could now try to mobilize activists living in Latin America, the daily El Mundo reported.
About 100 ETA members live mainly in Venezuela, Mexico and Cuba. Some of them were deported there while others are on the run.
Police were most concerned about the presence of ETA in Venezuela, which was seen as having an 'ambiguous' attitude towards the group, El Mundo said.