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Corsican Nationalists Urge Amnesty for Separatist Fighters - 2001-08-08

The French government appears divided by demands from Corsican nationalists for France to grant amnesty to separatist fighters.

During an annual gathering Saturday and Sunday in Corsica, hard-line nationalists renewed their call for France to grant amnesty to Corsican political prisoners and fighters, as a key step toward diffusing tensions between mainland France and the Mediterranean island.

Corsican nationalist leader Francois Santoni said the amnesty measure should also include the killer of France's prefect in Corsica, Claude Erignac, who was assassinated in 1998.

France's Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant has ruled out amnesty for Corsican prisoners, saying it was not "the order of the day." But Green Party members of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's coalition government do not agree.

In remarks to news reporters this week, the Green candidate in next year's presidential elections, Alain Lipietz, said he supports granting amnesty to Corsican separatists. And in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, Green Party leader Noel Mamere indicated the status of Corsican political prisoners should be reconsidered. But unlike Mr. Lipietz, Mr. Mamere said he would not support granting amnesty to those who had committed, "blood crimes."

Tension has grown between Corsica and the French mainland in recent months. It has been fueled by a rash of terrorist attempts on the island, and perceptions by Corsican politicians that the French government has been slow to implement a limited autonomy plan for the island.

The initiative was passed by the French National Assembly earlier this year, but awaits a hearing in the French Senate.

Meanwhile, the Green's amnesty suggestions have been sharply criticized by conservative politicians. Critics include members of President Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic Party. Dominique Erignac, widow of the slain French prefect, also said she was scandalized by the amnesty idea.

This is not the first time Mr. Jospin's government has clashed over ways to deal with Corsica. Last year, Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement resigned in protest over the limited autonomy plan for the island.

Overall, however, many French politicians back a more flexible approach toward Corsica, as a way for moderate Corsican lawmakers to gain ground over separatists, and to fight the growing power of criminal clans on the island.