BILBAO — Members of the Spanish paramilitary civil guard shot and killed two young Basques on September 24 in what authorities described as a "shoot-out" with police in a narrow downtown street. The police operation is continuing.
According to local media, police have arrested 12 others in the area, all of whom remain incommunicado under "anti-terrorist" legislation.
The official report claims a "gun battle" erupted outside an apartment building in Bilbao, the capital of Bizkaia, one of the four southern Basque provinces under Spanish administration.
One of those killed has been identified as Gaizka Gaztelumendi, 27. Police withdrew identification of the other victim, initially named as Jesus Maria Martin Hernando, 26. Gaztelumendi's family have not been allowed to see his body.
The civil guard claims the two Basques were members of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna's (ETA's) Bizkaia commando and had been under surveillance for some time before soldiers moved in and "demanded to see their identification papers".
When confronted, the Basques pulled out guns and opened fire, say the police. Another police version states that Gaztelumendi and his companion approached a parked car that police were staking out. Spanish authorities said the car had been identified as the getaway vehicle in the killing of a policeman.
A woman who was near the place of the murders, however, told a Madrid daily that she heard no "shoot-out". Another witness said he heard only three gunshots. One civil guard soldier was "slightly" injured.
Immediately afterwards several combat units from the civil guard and regional security forces surrounded the area, indicating a coordinated operation between central and regional police forces.
Numerous homes have been subject to violent searches by police, who claim they seized arms and explosives in a basement located in the neighbourhood of Zorroza in Bilbao.
Karmelo Landa, MP and member of the national board of the left-wing Basque party Herri Batasuna, reportedly said that because of the lack of details about the police operation and the testimonies of the witnesses, the alleged shoot-out was probably a police ambush.
He renewed Herri Batasuna's demand to stop repression, withdraw security forces from southern Basque Country and to begin political negotiations.
Spain's justice councillor in Bascongadas, Ramon Jauregui from the Spanish Socialist Party, was quoted in a Madrid newspaper as saying the police operation was "positive" for the "pacification" process in the Basque Country.
The minister of interior, Jaime Mayor Oreja, said the civil guard operation was a "relief" for "many families who were going to be victims of this bloody commando".
Amnesty International's 1993 report documents numerous ETA militants and sympathisers who have been captured, tortured and extrajudicially executed — the killings attributed by the Spanish police to armed "encounters".
There are rarely survivors, either wounded or captured, of such alleged clashes, and in all cases the security forces' official version is contradicted by the version of witnesses. More than 150 alleged ETA activists have been killed by police.
[Abridged from Euskal Herria Journal, a publication of the Congress for Peace in Euskal Herria, New York City.]