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Killer of Corsican official `escaped after spy tip-off'

THE MAN who murdered the most senior French official in Corsica escaped arrest because he was tipped off by the French equivalent of MI5. Who says so? The second most senior detective in France.

At least that is what the senior policeman appears to say in testimony to the French Senate that he thought was secret and which the Senate promptly published.

The detective, Roger Marion, formerly head of an anti- terror squad on the troubled and troublesome island, now denies that he said - or meant - any such thing. His words are, however, recorded on tape.

The father of the wanted man, himself a former Socialist MP and senior government adviser on Corsican affairs, says that his son, Yvan Colonna, still on the run, was tipped off by no one.

The powerful French Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, is in trouble because it was he who insisted on promoting the widely disliked Mr Marion to one of the senior police jobs in France earlier this year. His protege - Un grand flic (great cop), according to Mr Chevenement - is now guilty of either (a) lying to the Senate or (b) failing to report a police crime. Everyone, on right and left, on the island, and on the mainland, is screaming at - and calling for legal action against - everyone else.

Even by the standards of normal Franco-Corsican relations - something like Alice in Wonderland, with plastic explosives - this is a baffling and disturbing tale. Why should the Renseignements Generaux (RG), the French police agency that monitors internal security, tip off the presumed murderer of the Prefect of Corsica?

If they did not, why did Mr Marion tell a Senate commission of inquiry that they did? Why did he give a different account to a parallel inquiry by the National Assembly?

Two damning reports, presented separately by the Senate and Assembly inquiries this week, offer a range of possible explanations. The investigations followed the assassination of Prefect Claude Erignac in February last year and the arrest of his successor, Prefect Bernard Bonnet, for ordering the fire-bombing of an illegal beach restaurant in April.

The parliamentary reports say that a civil war has been raging for years between four different police forces in Corsica, the police, the gendarmerie, a special terrorist unit and the RG. At least two of these forces, the police and local elements of the RG, are suspected to have links with the extremist nationalist movements in Corsica and the mafia-like groups from which they can scarcely be distinguished.