Spain cracks down on new streak of terrorist action in Basque region

The recent ambush of six members of the Spanish Civil Guard -- the largest number of civil guards ever to have perished in a single incident -- highligts the breadkdown of law and order in the northwestern Basque region.

The attack was mounted by a group of terrorists belonging to the Basque separatist organization Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna (ETA) as the guardsmen were escorting two trucks loaded with mortars and ammunition along a norhtern coastal road. This suggested that the chief purpose of the attack was to capture the weapons.However, police later found the trucks intact further along the road.

On top of this, fears of reprisals by terrorists on the extreme right were confirmed over the weekend when a group calling itself the Spanish Basque Battalion claimed responsibility for two killings. The victims were Jesus Zubicara, who sympathized with Euskadiko Euskera, a Basque party that voted in favor of a regional home-rule agreement in the referendum last October, and Yolanda Gonzalez, a 19-year-old Basque girl and member of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.

The groups to which both of these victims belonged have renounced violent methods. Thus apprehension is growing that the extreme right may be engaged in an increasingly generalized campaign of revenge.

A recent bomb attack on the local offices of UNESCO and a death threat sent to a socialist politician tend to support this view of a new streak of violence. The threatened Madrid councilor had announced that the names of 27 streets in Madrid would be changed from those given during the time of General Franco back to their original names before the civil war and the establishment of Spain's second public.

The reaction of Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez's government to this spiral of violence (in which 22 people in Spain have been killed in acts of terrorism in the past 25 days), has been to instruct Gen. Carlos Saenz, head of the national police force, to coordinate security in the Basque region. It is suggested that the general has been given almost unlimited powers.

As a further measure, an undisclosed number of units of specially trained anti-terrorist troops have been dispatched to the area.

Meanwhile in the Basque country itself there are fears that the recent events may prejudice the chances of the elections for an all-Basque parliament (outlined in last year's autonomy statutes) being held, a proposed, on March 9.

Moderates in the region are aware that both terrorist factions have a vested interest in preventing these elections: the extreme right because it wants to ensure that the principle of regional autonomy is abandoned withot further trial , and the ETA because it would regard the establishment of a Basque parliament as another step towards their organization's eventual extinction.

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