At a meeting on Sunday - the Ghjurnate Internaziunale or 'International Days', a congress run by the three Corsican groups making up the Corsica Nazione umbrella organisation - the traditional Corsican National Liberation Front, or FLNC-Canal Historique, said it had carried out the killing of Robert Sozzi, a 28-year- old former member, in Bastia on 15 June. Sozzi was killed by several shots from a hunting rifle in front of his home.
The claim of responsibility was read before about 3,500 people from the conference platform by a hooded and armed man who was protected by four comrades. Sozzi's murder had been the 13th unexplained killing in a series with possible political implications this year.
The commando said that Sozzi's murder, together with that of two other unidentified 'criminals', was justified by the fact that they had been planning attacks on 'several of our militants' and was a matter of 'legitimate defence'. It was the first time that Corsican nationalists have claimed responsibility for political murders since the FLNC split into two groups in 1990.
Corsica Nazione is the second most powerful political body on Corsica after the mainstream coalition of the Gaullist RPR and the centre- right Union for French Democracy (UDF).
Sunday's claim was seen by analysts as both a warning by hardliners in the nationalist movement that dissenters would be eliminated and as a sign to the government that nationalist objectives needed to be taken seriously before a visit to the island by Francois Mitterrand next month. The President, who is going there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the island's liberation from German occupation, will be accompanied by Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister. Himself of Corsican origin, Mr Pasqua's hard line on Corsican nationalism has made him a particular bete noire of the nationalists.
Sozzi left the FLNC-Canal Historique in February 1992 and since then had been viewed as a moderate nationalist. A local priest said that his murder resulted from 'cowardice and stupidity' because Sozzi was well-informed on the FLNC's 'money-pump'. As farms belonging to moderate nationalists have been targets of arson, some expressed the fear that the Sozzi killing marked the beginning of reprisals between various autonomist tendencies.
Laeatitia Sozzi, the widow, said: 'I had been expecting this claim for some time.' The FLNC- Canal Historique had waited two months, she said, because when it 'speaks of a plot, it has no evidence to back its charges'.