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Cabinet Takes Steps To Shake Up Security In Corsica

January 3, 1991

PARIS (AP) _ The Cabinet replaced the top security official on the island of Corsica Thursday and promised to shake up the police and judicial system to restore order after a wave of political violence.

The announcement came hours after separatist guerrillas launched a series of bomb attacks around the French island and a day after guerrillas took a dozen people hostage at a nudist colony.

The attacks further compounded the problems for President Francois Mitterrand as he met with his inner Cabinet in response to calls for a tougher Corsican policy after gunmen murdered a village mayor on New Year’s Eve.

Masked men killed Paul Mariani, 55, in an exchange of gunfire outside his home in the village of Soveria. There was no apparent link to the separatists. Police are investigating the possibility of a personal or political vendetta.

The killing - the third of a political figure in three months - prompted cries of outrage from Corsican politicians and demands for the state to crack down on lawbreakers.

The government declared, however, that it would stand by Interior Minister Pierre Joxe’s controversial policy of seeking to cool nationalist passions by giving in to key separatist demands.

In Thursday’s meeting, the Cabinet replaced the island’s top security official, Jean Thieblemont, with civil administrator Bernard Bonnet.

He will occupy the post of prefect for security, answerable to the prefects of the island’s northern and southern departments. A prefect is the government’s top administrator in a department.

Deputy Justice Minister Georges Kiejman, vowing to ″reaffirm the authority of the state,″ also said significant changes will be decided in coming days in the police and judiciary.

Kiejman called on Corsicans to cooperate with police in seeking the killers of the three political figures.

The three - Mariani, another village mayor and the president of the Corsican Chamber of Agriculture - all were gunned down by masked men whom police have been unable to identify.

About 1,000 people, including many dignitaries, overwhelmed Soveria, a tiny village of 66, to attend Mariani’s funeral Thursday. A French tricolor draped his coffin, and a moderate nationalist group sang dirges in the Corsican language.

Police have not accused Corsican separatists of any of the political killings. Possible suspects could include personal enemies or local organized crime families.

Yet the killings have sparked strong criticism of Joxe’s plan to split moderate and extreme Corsican separatists by offering them certain concessions.

Chief among these is a bill recognizing the existence of a ″Corsican people.″ Though many Corsicans speak their own language, this treads on the much-cherished French concept of an indivisible national identity.

Conservative opponents of the Socialist government say that concessions to Corsican nationalists have weakened respect for law and order on the island.

The Cabinet on Thursday refused to abandon the Joxe plan, which has already cleared the Socialist-controlled National Assembly but faces a rougher ride in the conservative Senate.

Also Thursday, suspected separatist commandos of the Corsican National Liberation Front destroyed several vacation homes in at least six bombing attacks. There were no injuries reported.

The FLNC claimed responsibility for the bombings and issued a communique vowing to ″bring the French government to a process of true decolonization.″

Police estimated that up to 100 commandos took place in all the attacks.

On Wednesday, hostages were taken at a nudist resort after FLNC commandos apparently hoping to blow up several bungalows were interrupted by police moving in on an anonymous tip.

The guerrillas escaped by sea after holding a dozen hostages in a two-hour standoff.

On Thursday, a harbor worker found a primitive bomb aboard the pleasure boat of the mayor of Calvi, in northern Corsica. Bomb experts disarmed it and no one was injured. No group claimed planting it.

The Corsican National Liberation Front is fighting for independence of the island, which became part of France in 1769. Many of the 250,000 Corsicans speak their own language, and some view France as a colonial occupier.

None of the 15 murders in Corsica last year have been solved.

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