Mafia bosses end feud to regain control of Sicily

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The Independent Online

The two most powerful leaders of the Sicilian Mafia have patched up their differences to enable the Mob to regain its grip on organised crime in the island, according to the government. The report submitted to parliament by the Home Affairs ministry said the Mafia is enjoying a "moment of renewal".

The two men are Salvatore "Toto" Riina, nicknamed "The Beast", who is serving consecutive life sentences for crimes including the murder of the anti mafia judge Giovanni Falcone - and Bernardo Provenzano, the man who succeeded Riina as head of the Corleone Mafia clan, known as "Bernie the Tractor", who has been on the run for 40 years. Provenzano is believed to have hideouts in the far west of Sicily, not far from the town of Corleone which is the gang's base.

The "charismatic" Provenzano is the moderate of the two, believed to have misgivings about the blowing-up of the two anti-Mafia prosecutors ten years ago that precipitated the most damaging ever clamp-down on the Mob, and the arrest and incarceration of Riina. Toto Riina, now 70, was the mafia "boss of bosses", the hardliner, the "terrorist" whose own charisma derived from his greed for power and his willingness to kill on the slightest pretext. But now, according to the government's report, the hawks and doves of Cosa Nostra have started working together. Enmity, incompre- hension and conflicts have been "definitively healed", the report maintains. The aim of the "iron pact" between the two men is to restore the ground lost with the numerous arrests of the past ten years, and the damage inflicted by the pentiti or "supergrasses".

Provenzano, whose nickname is said to refer not just to his strength but also to his stolidity, realised the need for the Mafia to recoup "credibility and competitiveness".

The power of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily continues to be linked to its choke hold on public works contracts, as well as widespread, low-level protection rackets. They also control the island's drugs trade. But beyond Sicily, Italy has seen the growth of a host of other criminal gangs which have multiplied in power and personnel in recent years, according to the report, at the Mafia's expense.

The most powerful gang nationwide, says the report, is the "Ndrangheta", the equivalent of the Mafia based in Calabria, in the far south, who are said to dominate the cocaine trade throughout the country with their close ties to gangs in Colombia. Non-Italian gangs have also made a strong impact, with North Africans the most numerous, as well as Nigerians, Turks, Chinese and Russians.

But the most menacing, the report says, are the Albanians, who moved into Italy in strength a decade ago, following the collapse of Albania's isolationist Communist regime.

The ruthless violence of the Albanians is said to have intimidated even Cosa Nostra. The government's report claims that Albanian criminals are now active all over the country, although not in Sicily, dominating the trade in smuggled illegal immigrants.

Not everyone accepts that the Sicilian Mafia is poised for a resurgence. One voice immediately cast doubt on the conclusions of the interior ministry report. Roberto Centaro, president of the government's Anti-Mafia Commission and a member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, referring to the recent murder of a Mafia-linked businessman, commented: "If the conflicts between Riina and Provenzano have been healed, it's hard to explain that killing."

Palermo's chief prosecutor, Piero Grasso seemed to agree and said that the slaying might signal the start of a new bloody mob turf war. The man killed, Carmele Milioti, 51, was believed to be the right-hand man of Leoluca Bagarella, a close lieutenant of Riina's. He was gunned down in a barber shop in Favara near Agrigento last month. The murder was said by Italian Mafia-watchers to be a deliberate imitation of the killing of a Mafia boss in the United States, Alberto Anastasia, who was shot dead by mobsters as he sat in a barber's chair in New York in 1957.

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