Venezuela denies links to Basque militants
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed a claim that Basque militants received weapons training in his country, calling it a farce aimed at discrediting his government.
Chavez reacted Monday night in a telephone call to state television after a Spanish judge said two suspected members of the armed Basque separatist group ETA arrested in Spain last week had taken part in a weapons training course in Venezuela in 2008.
"It's a broken record," Chavez said, recalling past accusations of foreign militants finding refuge in Venezuela. "Now this other farce comes along. ... There's a permanent international conspiracy."
Chavez read aloud a statement from his foreign ministry denying any claims "that aim to link (the government) with the terrorist organization ETA."
The government statement said the testimony of "two bloodthirsty criminals" lacks credibility and suggested that they are making "absurd" claims to try to lessen the severity of their eventual sentences.
Judge Ismael Moreno said one of the instructors in the 2008 course is a suspected ETA member who is a longtime resident of Venezuela, now has Venezuelan nationality and has held a government job. That alleged ETA member, Arturo Cubillas Fontan, was indicted by Spain in March.
Among other things, Spain accuses him of helping ETA supporters arrange explosives training with Colombian rebels in Venezuela.
The judge ordered the two detainees, Juan Carlos Besance and Javier Atristain, held without bail pending further investigation. The judge said in an order issued Monday that the course they took in July and August 2008 involved training in marksmanship, disassembling and cleaning guns, and communicating in code.
Spain's Foreign Ministry said it had asked Venezuelan authorities to provide any information it might have relating to the training of the suspected ETA members in the South American country. The ministry noted that following the March indictment both countries had agreed to collaborate in fighting terrorism.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said the two countries have established ample police cooperation, and that Venezuelan authorities are fully willing to take action as necessary when Spanish authorities request it "through established channels and procedures."
Since launching its violent campaign for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain in the late 1960s, ETA has killed more than 825 people.