France and Spain join forces to fight Eta

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The Independent Online

Spain and France will create a permanent, joint police unit to investigate the armed Basque separatist group ETA, the Spanish prime minister said yesterday.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the accord came during talks in Portugal's capital on Saturday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the sidelines of an EU-Africa summit.

ETA members have traditionally hidden out in southern France. Spain and France already co-operate in fighting ETA, but Zapatero said they will now enhance this work by creating a joint police unit that will focus exclusively on investigating ETA with an eye to heading off attacks.

"It is a qualitative step that will certainly bear fruit," Zapatero told a news conference.

Two Spanish policemen were fatally shot on 1 December by suspected ETA members in the resort town of Capbreton in southern France. Last week, France arrested two suspects in the case but a third remains at large.

M. Sarkozy said on Saturday that France was determined to make the final arrest, treating the case "as if the victims were French."

Zapatero yesterday "we owe France much more than gratitude for its attitude of collaboration."

The Spanish government blames ETA for 821 killings since 1968, including the latest two. ETA claims Basque areas of France for the independent nation it wants to create in land straddling the border between France and Spain.