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Corleone’s ‘Museum’ a Showcase

December 12, 2000

CORLEONE, Sicily (AP) _ In this town where stoney alleys once ran red in blood nearly every day, Angela Mirabile took her two young children on a field trip of sorts _ a stroll to a Mafia ``museum″ to teach them about a notorious past that she hopes is gone forever.

The anti-Mafia documentation center, set up in a 400-year-old palace that used to be an orphanage, was being formally opened Tuesday in a ceremony timed to coincide with the start of a U.N. conference in Palermo aimed at encouraging nations to do more to defeat organized crime.

On Monday, workmen hung up on the center’s walls blown-up photographs of Mafia killings and bombings of the last three decades _ crimes so horrible that Sicilians who used to keep silent about Cosa Nostra started demanding that Italian authorities crack down on centuries-old organized crime.

The 1993 capture of Corleone native son, ``boss of bosses″ Salvatore ``Toto″ Riina, after 23 years on the run was one of the more sensational successes in Italy’s battle against mobsters and it gave many Corleonesi the courage to publicly denounce Cosa Nostra.

When Mirabile, now 30, was growing up in this town on a mountainous outcrop whose crevices served as hiding places for the bones of the Mafia’s victims, ``certain topics weren’t discussed at home,″ she said as her son, Francesco, 6, peered curiously at the photographs. ``I don’t know if that was good or bad. I learned about the Mafia from newspapers.″

The focus of the Palermo gathering is a treaty approved this fall by the U.N. General Assembly that stiffens the way nations battle mobsters. Top officials were invited to sign the document in Palermo, giving Sicily a chance to showcase its hard-earned know-how in the fight against Italian crime syndicates.

Parliaments of nations signing the treaty will be asked to pass laws abolishing banking secrecy to confound money-launderers and make corruption a crime in countries where public officials can count on taking payoffs with impunity.

The treaty also aims to make it harder for criminals to run clandestine immigrant rings, a racket so lucrative, experts say, it now is second only to drug trafficking as a cash-maker for organized crime.

The accord ``can make a real difference in this reprehensible trade in human beings,″ U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said as he opened the conference in a recently restored Palermo theater.

Organized crime gangs have ``entrenched interests representing billions of dollars, but, my friends, they are not invincible,″ the U.N. leader said, noting that the very fact that the conference was being held in Palermo pays tribute to Italy’s successes against mobsters.

Corleone, which gave its name to one of Cosa Nostra’s bloodiest crime families as well as to Mario Puzo’s fictional American mob clan in ``The Godfather,″ speaks proudly of Riina’s capture. That day, students at the town’s high school ran into the streets and rallied behind a banner that read simply: ``Finally.″

``It was the young people above all who were aware that Riina’s capture was the undoing of a myth,″ said school principal and deputy mayor, Giuseppe Governale. ``The older residents can’t shake off that mafioso subculture, of privilege, of protection, of favors.″

Upstairs in Corleone’s new ``museum,″ are stacks of papers documenting prosecutors’ efforts to bring Cosa Nostra’s bosses to justice.

``There are no shotguns on display. It’s not a museum of horrors,″ said Governale.

Still the images are grim and sometimes shocking.

In one photograph, taken in the town of Bagheria in 1975, police examine dusty bones found in a Mafia cemetery. In another, enough blood poured out of the head of a Sicilian businessman who refused to pay ``protection″ money to Cosa Nostra that it looks like a can of paint was spilled on the sidewalk where he was shot dead in 1991.

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