Corsican separatists vow to lay down arms

Corsica's main separatist group FLNC, which has staged attacks since the 1970s in its quest for the island's independence from France, made a surprise move on Wednesday when it announced it would lay down arms.

Corsican separatists vow to lay down arms
Corsican separatists the FLNC has agreed to lay down arms. Photo: Stephan Angostini/AFP

Corsica's main militant group FLNC, which has staged attacks since the 1970s in its quest for the island's separation from France, made a surprise move on Wednesday when it announced it would lay down arms.

The National Liberation Front of Corsica said in a statement that it has "unilaterally decided to begin a process of demilitarisation… without any preconditions".

It said that its members would no longer claim responsibility "for any military action on Corsican and French territory".

The statement also called on politicians to "trace the outlines of a political solution" and "negotiate a new status with the French state and resolve the question of prisoners."

The FLNC, which was set up in 1976, and various other factions intent on self-rule have staged hundreds of attacks in Corsica. They have also been blamed for armed robberies and extortion through so-called revolutionary taxes.

But the group suffered from internal feuds in the 1990s – although in that decade it staged the assassination of Claude Erignac, the prefect of Corsica and the island's top official.

The French Mediterranean island of 310,000 people is popular with tourists for its spectacular beauty, but it has also been hit by a serious crime wave.

In 2012 the region’s top lawyer Antoine Sollacaro, 63, and the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for South Corsica Jacques Nacer, 59, were both gunned down in public.  

Nearly all of Corsica’s murders have been blamed on organised crime, with rival gangs engaged in turf wars to control everything from drug trafficking to gambling and prostitution.

A property boom in recent years has encouraged criminal gangs to bury their “dirty money” in property and land.

With hardened criminals becoming property speculators, local officials have come under intense pressure every time they are asked to grant planning permission for new homes or developments. With so much money at stake and officials living in fear, corruption is never far away.

After the shocking death of the lawyer Sollacaro, who was gunned down at a petrol station in broad daylight, France’s then Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault vowed to take the necessary steps to halt the spiral of violence.

As part of his ten-point plan, the former PM announced that funds would be given to bolster specialist investigative resources on the island, which would be geared to fighting against money laundering, especially in the real estate sector.

Although the island's top lawmaker Paul Giacobbi welcomed the government’s efforts to solve the violence, he said the measures did not go far enough.

“We need to have one man or one woman in charge of fighting crime in Corsica,” Giacobbi told The Local. “In Marseille they decided to appoint a Prefect of police but in Corsica they said it would not be useful. This is completely stupid. The number of murders per population is four times higher in Corsica than in Marseille.

“We need to concentrate the power in the hands of a reliable and trustworthy person. It’s very important to have someone with a strong personality, who will have a natural authority over both the police and the gendarmerie.”

“This person needs to be specialized and experienced in the fight against mafia.”

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