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French Official Detained in Corsica

May 3, 1999

AJACCIO, Corsica (AP) _ France’s top official in Corsica, Bernard Bonnet, was taken into custody today as part of the investigation into the firebombing of a Corsican restaurant, judicial officials said.

Earlier, police raided Bonnet’s offices on this Mediterranean Island. Officials would not say why Bonnet was taken into custody.

In Paris, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin asked President Jacques Chirac to dismiss Bonnet. Bonnet’s cabinet chief, Gerard Pardini, also was placed in custody.

The April 20 attack destroyed ``Chez Francis″ on a beach near Ajaccio, Corsica’s capital. The restaurant is said to have been a favorite hangout for nationalists. There were no casualties.

Three members of a French anti-terrorism squad have been placed under investigation, along with Col. Henri Mazeres, head of police in Corsica, on charges of carrying out the attack.

A lawyer for one of the three officers said Monday his client was ordered to carry out the attack.

``He deliberately started the fire ... but it wasn’t a spontaneous act,″ Emmanuel Saint-Lanne, lawyer for Capt. Norbert Ambrosse, told reporters after his client was questioned for five hours by an investigating judge.

Referring to all three officers, Saint-Lanne said they ``would have been threatened if they hadn’t carried out the mission.″

``The three men have been exploited by their immediate superior,″ he said, referring to Mazeres.

Corsican officials are demanding urgent answers from Paris, and the leftist government of Lionel Jospin has come under mounting pressure to explain the role of the officers in the firebombing.

The anti-terrorism squad was created last year in the wake of the assassination of Claude Erignac, France’s prefect on the island. Bonnet was then appointed as his successor with orders to clamp down on corruption.

Nationalists in Corsica have waged a 23-year campaign of bombings against public buildings and French businesses, demanding greater autonomy or even independence.

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