Air force base hit by Corsican bombers

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The Independent Online
PARIS - Corsican nationalists carried out a daring attack on an air force base on the island shortly before a visit yesterday by Francois Leotard, the French Defence Minister, writes Julian Nundy.

Early on Sunday a bomb, believed to have been placed in the air conditioning system, destroyed the office of the commander of the base of Solenzara on the island's east coast. There was no claim of responsibility. The base perimeter has been protected by mines and sentries manning watchtowers since the last time nationalists got inside and set off bombs in January 1978.

No one was hurt in Sunday's bombing. On Saturday, a grenade was fired at the commander's house. The Solenzara attacks followed a dozen similar bombings, mainly directed at gendarmerie posts and public buildings, since 14 suspected members of the banned Corsican National Liberation Front-Historical Channel, the FLNC-Canal Historique, were arrested on 27 March. Those detained, who have been shipped to prisons on the French mainland, were caught with explosives at a holiday home development at Sperone, near the Corsican port of Bonifacio, 40 miles from Solenzara.

On Friday, the Movement for Self-Determination, the public and legal face of the FLNC-Canal Habituel - the two rival wings of the FLNC split in 1990 - criticised the Sperone operation and appealed for a meeting of all Corsican nationalist organisations 'to avoid the provocation-repression spiral which is leading Corsica to disaster'.

The Solenzara bombing and a simultaneous grenade attack on vehicles belonging to the gendarmerie at Pietrodicerce were seen as a direct challenge to Mr Leotard who arrived in Ajaccio yesterday to visit villages which suffered extensive flooding last winter. The gendarmerie comes under Defence Ministry control.

Since 1990, the two wings of the FLNC and some of the hard-core underground groups such as Resistenza, have been more preoccupied with intra-nationalist feuds than with fighting French rule. The aborted operation against the Sperone development appeared to be a return to the earlier tradition of singling out holiday targets.

A number of repentant Corsican guerrillas say they believe the armed struggle against French rule is outdated and misguided given the number of concessions by Paris to local culture and to local control over policy granted since the 1970s. Last year, the Corsican Assembly, the island's parliament, put proposals for reform to the government which plans to present them for approval to the National Assembly in Paris in the near future.