August 21, 2009 / 7:07 PM / 10 years ago

French police find 3 more suspected ETA arms stashes

PARIS (Reuters) - French police discovered three arms caches probably belonging to Basque separatists ETA in southern France Friday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said, broadening a crackdown on the militant group.

A series of similar raids over the past few days have uncovered some of the largest finds of ETA weapons in France for several years. The complete contents of Friday’s caches in the Mediterranean Herault department could not immediately be confirmed.

Two of the caches were located Friday morning, with a third containing 25 kg (55 lb) of ammonium nitrate and 12 kg of pentrite, both explosive substances, discovered in the afternoon, a spokeswoman from the prosecutor’s office said.

Electronic components were also found in the third cache, she said.

“There were three (discoveries) in Herault today,” she said by telephone. “There was nothing besides that found today.”

Thursday, investigators acting on a tip-off from Spanish authorities found a secret stash of arms, detonators and explosives in a forest in Herault.

Wednesday, police arrested three suspected members of ETA in the Alpine resort of Villarembert-le-Corbier. They were wanted by Spanish authorities after a car bomb attack on the island of Mallorca in late July that killed two Civil Guards.

Police also uncovered weapons, ammunition, false papers and car number plates in the resort.

Another cache, containing 100 kg (220 lb) of ammonium nitrate, was discovered Wednesday in the French Pyrenees.

The find is the largest since French police unveiled a cache dubbed “Chernobyl” by ETA militants in 2002. That pile included rockets, mortars and hundreds of firearms.

ETA, founded half a century ago to fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France, has carried out three big bombings in Spain in the last two months.

The group has been blamed for more than 800 deaths in the past 40 years and analysts believe the latest bombings are an attempt to demonstrate it has not been defeated by hundreds of arrests.

There have been reports of growing differences within ETA, between hardliners and others favoring peace talks.

Reporting by Sophie Louet and Tamora Vidaillet; editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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