Paris tightens grip on Corsica warlords

The Paris government may be hedging its bets on the upsurge of fighting in Zaire and keeping an embarrassed silence on the daily killings in Algeria, but it is finally addressing a problem of violence closer to home that has festered for the past 20 years. In a sharp change of policy that has gone unannounced and unremarked, Paris has started to lay down the law in the rebellious island of Corsica.

The turning point came last month, when police arrested a lawyer by the name of Marie-Helene Mattei at Bastia airport in northern Corsica. Since then, all but one of the leaders of A Cuncolta Naziunalista, the political wing of the island's main separatist movement, the Front for the National Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), have been detained.

Francois Santoni, the national secretary of A Cuncolta, turned himself in within 48 hours of Ms Mattei's arrest - she is his girlfriend and, in the quasi-feudal code of Corsican nationalism, he presented his surrender as a matter of honour. Jean-Michel Rossi, the editor of Cuncolta's magazine, was captured soon afterwards.

Along with Ms Mattei, they were transferred to Paris and charged with extortion and other offences. A dozen or so more junior activists have also been detained. In Corsica, reports of police raids on the homes of presumed nationalists have taken over from reports of small-scale bombings and strafings as the staple of daily news bulletins.

After a month of moving slowly but systematically, the authorities in Paris exude quiet satisfaction: A Cuncolta Naziunalista has been effectively beheaded and, against all predictions, there has been no bloodbath and no general strike on the island. Attacks on the mainland have become fewer and further between.

The only A Conculta leader still at large is Charles Pieri, secretary for upper Corsica, but he may be less of a threat than his awesome reputation suggests. He was badly injured in a car-bomb attack last summer and his capacity to lead the movement cannot be taken for granted.

What is unclear is whether Ms Mattei's arrest was just a lucky break for the authorities or whether - as is claimed on her behalf - she and Mr Santoni were "set up" in an elaborate operation masterminded from Paris.

The specific offence with which she and Mr Santoni are charged concerns the destruction of the guardhouse at the Sperone resort and golf club in southern Corsica. The house was blown up by a masked gang on 12 December after the resort's owner, a Paris-based businessmen named Jacques Dewez, refused to comply with a demand for protection money and - in an act almost unheard of in Corsica - went to the police.

Planned or not, the stand of Mr Dewez was a godsend for the authorities. Not only did it give them the lead to Ms Mattei and Mr Santoni, it also allowed them to present A Cuncolta as a band of common or garden gangsters, thus stripping it of its political mythology.

Opponents of the nationalists in Corsica have long accused the authorities in Paris of making secret deals with the nationalists for the sake of an uneasy peace. That excuse for a policy now seems to have been abandoned.

"I believe that we have at last left ambiguity behind," the French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, said recently on television.

A crackdown in Corsica had been signalled ever since Jacques Chirac became president and Mr Juppe prime minister. Both insisted that it was unacceptable for there to be one law for mainland France and another for Corsica, given that Corsica is constitutionally a part of France.

For more than a year, however, such statements seemed like wishful thinking or even deliberate disinformation. Just how remote they were from the truth was revealed last October, when Francois Santoni claimed that he had had secret talks with members of Mr Juppe's staff and that Mr Juppe's office had set the terms for an armed show of strength by the nationalists the previous February - charges that were not denied.

The reasons for the policy change remain unclear. Did the bomb in October at the town hall in Bordeaux - where Mr Juppe is mayor - and the personal threats against him cause the Prime Minister to change his mind? Was it simply that the public mood on Corsica was judged to have turned against the nationalists and so offered an opportunity for change?

Whatever the reasons, the government's words and deeds now seem to be in kilter for the first time. With several former untouchables in prison on the mainland, the authorities have a freer hand to tackle Corsica's desperate economic problems. Measures to establish Corsica as a partially tax-free zone and inject new agricultural subsidies are in train as Paris tries to seize back the initiative from the island's entrenched, but invisible warlords.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee