4 Basque separatists arrested in Portugal, France

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MADRID (AP) — Four suspected members of Basque separatist group ETA were arrested in Portugal and France, including one who was allegedly driving a van loaded with explosives, officials said Sunday.

Two ETA suspects were captured in northern Portugal after one was stopped while driving the van through the northwestern Spanish town of Bermillo de Sayago, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of the border with Portugal, a regional Interior Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press.

Several houses in Bermillo de Sayago, which has a population of 1,000, were evacuated and the area around the van was cordoned off, the ministry spokesman said. No further details were given, including about the quantity of explosives.

A Civil Guard spokesman told The Associated Press that the two suspects in France were arrested in central Clermont-Ferrand as they approached a weapons stash. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government rules.

The Interior Ministry spokesman said two police officers stopped the van in Spain around 10 p.m. Saturday (2100 GMT, 4 p.m. EST) when their suspicions were raised by its French license plates. The driver of the van then pushed passed the police and proceeded to flee the scene driving off in their patrol car which he stole.

The police alerted their Portuguese counterparts who rapidly arrested the man and a woman, who apparently had been following the van in a presumed getaway vehicle with French plates, authorities said.

ETA has waged a violent campaign of bombings and shootings since 1968 that has killed more than 825 people in a separatist attempt to carve an independent Basque state straddling northern Spain and southwest France.