- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

PARIS — The latest explosion of militant Corsican nationalism is forcing the French government to revise its strategy for dealing with terrorism on the scenic island where Napoleon was born.

Violence, which French President Jacques Chirac described as “the cancer of Corsica,” has spread to southern France, where thousands of Corsicans have settled, fleeing the island’s poverty and economic stagnation.

An explosion ripped through an office building belonging to state energy giant Electricite de France in Corsica yesterday, damaging the building but hurting no one, police said. It was the second blast on the island over the weekend, and it followed a bomb blast that injured 16 persons in the Riviera city of Nice a week ago.

Earlier this month, thousands of nationalist supporters fought police and burned cars in Ajaccio, the administrative center of Corsica and Napoleon’s birthplace.

The rioters demanded the release of imprisoned “Corsican patriots,” including Yvan Colonna, accused in the slaying of Claude Erignac, a senior government official.

“We will tear out our freedom and free all imprisoned brothers,” said Jean-Marie Poli, a nationalist spokesman. “If dialogue doesn’t succeed, we will force France to find a political solution.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy described the unrest as manipulated by the Mafia and said he would use “all necessary means” to arrest the “clandestine and hooded terrorists.”

However, he said the door to political dialogue remained open.

The 260,000 inhabitants of what the French call “the island of beauty” are divided among partisans of the status quo, of a form of autonomy or of outright independence. The clandestine movement consists of groups often at odds with one another.

Corsica has roiled French political life for years, with periodic rioting, assassinations and bomb attacks. Nationalist parties demanding independence for the Mediterranean island 100 miles south of the coast of France are a minority, but apparently a deadly one.

In a July 6 referendum, the island’s population rejected the government’s plan for reforms that would streamline Corsica’s political institutions and the local administration. The nationalists charged that the plan would tie the island closer to France and remove the prospect of autonomy.

The defeat of the referendum was a blow to Mr. Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose conservative government is facing a host of economic problems.

For years, Corsicans have complained of being the “stepchildren of France.” Today, more Corsicans live on the French mainland than in Corsica, having left behind the tormented island of dying villages where old men sit outside their crumbling homes.

Many Corsicans see the nationalist clamor as folly.

“The island’s future and patrimony can only be developed and guaranteed by the means of a rich and powerful nation,” said Claude Frasseto, who was born in Tunisia but who lives in Corsica, tied to the island by his ancestry.

Another problem facing Corsica is the growth of immigration from the former North African colonies. The immigrants’ presence and high birthrate are contributing to ethnic tension, fueling radical nationalism.

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