The military chief for of the violent Basque separatist group ETA was arrested Sunday in southern France along with another man accused of being his assistant, Spanish authorities said.

Oroitz Gurruchaga Gogorza and Xabier Aramburu were taken into custody in the small rural town of Cauna in southwestern France by French police working with Spanish authorities, Spain's Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Both men were armed with handguns and traveling in a stolen car with falsified license plates when they were arrested, the ministry said.

Gurruchaga, 30, joined ETA in 2008 and rapidly rose through its ranks to become the group's top military commander, the ministry said, and also led ETA's recruitment efforts. Aramburu , 32, fled to France in 2010 after being accused of carrying out several bombing attacks, including a 2008 car bombing that wounded people, the ministry said.

ETA has killed 829 people since the late 1960s in a campaign of bombings, shootings and extortion aimed at forcing the creation of a Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. It is classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the United States and the European Union.

But the group has been decimated in recent years by waves of arrests, and declared last October that it was laying down its weapons for good.