A Spanish court sentenced five former government officials including a Civil Guard general to up to 71 years in prison yesterday for their involvement in the kidnapping and murder of two Basque separatists. Two other defendants were cleared in the politically charged case involving the shadowy Anti-Terrorist Liberation Groups (GAL), part of a wider “dirty war” scandal that helped topple Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez in the 1996 election. A three-judge panel found three Civil Guardsmen guilty of the 1983 kidnap and killing of Jose Antonio Lasa, 20, and Jose Ignacio Zabala, 21, believed to belong to the violent Basque separatist group ETA. Two high-ranking officials -Civil Guard General Enrique Rodriguez Galindo and Julen Elgorriaga, a former Socialist governor of Basque province Guipuzcoa each were sentenced to 71 years for supervising the crimes. The guardsmen Felipe Bayo, Angel Vaquero and Enrique Dorado received sentences ranging from 67 to 69 years. All five convicted men were fined a total of about $275'000. Former State Secretary for Security Rafael Vera, who was accused of covering up the crimes after the fact, was acquitted along with another defendant, lawyer Jorge Argote. All seven defendants were absolved of torture and belonging to an armed group. In all, GAL is accused of killing 28 people from 1983 to 1987, even though many of the victims had no links to their purported target, the Basque separatist group ETA. Although ETA's violent, three-decade campaign for an independent Basque state is almost universally condemned in Spain, the GAL death squads were similarly rejected by the public once their existence was discovered years later.

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