Corsican who knew too much: Murder rips through island's divided separatist factions

Click to follow
FOR SOME, he was a minor thug who had to be put out of action. For others, he is a martyr - an incorruptible who knew too much.

Robert Sozzi, 28, was shot dead in his car on 15 June outside his Bastia home. Nearly two months later, on 8 August, the FLNC-Canal Historique (the Corsican National Liberation Front-Historical Channel), said it had decided to execute Sozzi and two other victims because they threatened the lives of Corsican nationalists.

Responsibility was claimed in the most dramatic way possible. At the end of the three-day Ghjurnate Internaziunale (international days), an annual conference in the town of Corte on separatism, five hooded gunmen took up position on the stage while one of them read a claim that the killings were justified by 'legitimate defence'.

The spokesman asked to be allowed to leave the podium in silence; a fraction of the 3,500-strong crowd broke into Tutti Rebelli (All Rebels), the song of the Corsican illegals.

The claim confirmed what had been an open secret, that the Canal Historique, which split from the mainstream and banned FLNC, now the FLNC-Canal Habituel, in 1990, had liquidated a man forced out of the movement last year.

The announcement shocked Corsicans because it was the first internecine killing among nationalists in three years. Although there have been sporadic killings of political opponents or others deemed to deserve revolutionary justice, the tendency has been to leave militants alone.

The Canal Habituel, with everything to gain from the discomfort of its rival, had been in the forefront of a campaign to expose the truth about the murder through its legal branch, the Movement for Self-Determination (MPA). The division into 'channels' dates from the 1970s when FLNC messages to the media were passed through 'the usual channel'.

Sozzi's murder was the 13th unexplained killing this year on this island of 250,000 inhabitants. Since his death, new groups have sprung up in a society where the initials and names of revolutionary organisations clutter walls. They include the Movement of 15 June which, with the obligatory hooded men at a press conference, accused the Canal Historique a month later. Another was the Robert and Letizia Sozzi Committee named after the victim and his widow.

The decisive move came when Edmond Simeoni, one of the FLNC's founders and the most famous name in modern Corsican nationalism, issued a statement asking that 'those who do not know should be silent. Those who do know should tell the truth'.

According to Sozzi's supporters, he had information on corruption within the dissident FLNC tendency. A priest, Prete Mondoloni, said 'cowardice and stupidity' had killed the young man - who worked for a security firm - because he knew too much about the Canal Historique's 'money pump', a version contested by officials of the Cuncolta Naziunalista (Nationalist Gathering), the Canal Historique's political front.

For them, the problem dates back to 5 May 1992 when a stand at the Furiani stadium, home to the Bastia Sporting soccer club, collapsed, killing 14 people.

Ten days later, a bomb damaged a truck loaded with parts of the crippled stand and another bomb caused a fire at a filling station whose manager had set up a support committee for Jean-Francois Filippi, the soccer team's president. At the time Mr Filippi was in detention for questioning about the tragedy.

A telephone caller to Agence France-Presse claimed responsibility on behalf of Canal Historique. The nationalist group quickly denied any involvement. Later bombs struck the property or offices of prominent freemasons, including the surgery of a popular doctor in Bastia, and the temple of the town's Lodge of the Grand Orient.

Mr Filippi himself is a freemason. At the same time, Cuncolta supporters said, Sozzi, who had been expelled from the Canal Historique but still knew where plastic explosives were stashed, boasted that he had carried out the bombings and accused freemasons of covering up the responsibility for Furiani.

'Two militants from the Canal Historique went to see him to tell him to stop,' a nationalist said this week. 'Then he went round saying he had been threatened, and giving the names of his two visitors. Then a decision was taken to eliminate him.'