The leader of the armed Basque group ETA was arrested in France on Sunday, said officials, in another setback for the separatists, who have seen five of their commanders taken into custody in the last two years.

ETA chief Ibon Gogeascoechea and two other suspected separatists were arrested in a joint French-Spanish police operation in the village of Cahan, France, following a long surveillance operation on a cottage that had been rented using false identity papers, said Spanish Interior Minister Alferdo Perez Rubalcaba.

“We understand one of those detained is the maximum leader of ETA at this moment.”

The two other suspects were part of an ETA “commando unit” that was preparing “to enter Spain almost certainly with the worst of intentions.”

French judicial sources confirmed the arrests.

Gogeascoechea (54) is wanted for allegedly helping to place 12 explosive devices around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, northern Spain, in 1997 on the eve of the gallery's inauguration by the king of Spain.

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