French court jails former ETA chief for 20 years

PARIS (Reuters) - A former military leader of the Basque separatist organisation ETA, known by the alias "Txeroki", or "Cherokee", was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a French court on Wednesday on charges of kidnapping and bomb-making.

Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina was arrested in 2008 in the mountainous Pyrenees region near the border with Spain and linked to the kidnapping of a Spanish couple and a child in the region the previous year.

At the time, he was Spain's most-wanted man due to his alleged role in a 2006 bomb attack on Madrid airport that killed two people.

The French court found him guilty of having made some 500 kg of explosives as well as abducting the couple and their four-old-child while they were on a camper van trip.

Nine co-defendants were handed jail sentences ranging from eight to 20 years.

ETA began its violent campaign for the independence of traditional Basque territories in northern Spain and southwest France in the late years of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in the 1960s and killed more than 800 people over four decades.

It announced an end to its armed struggle in 2011 but did not fully halt operations or turn over its weapons. The group has been significantly weakened, however, as many of its leaders have been arrested and arms caches seized.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Alison Williams)