President Emmanuel Macron and Corsican officials have called for calm ahead of the burial of Corsican nationalist Yvan Colonna today.
Colonna, who was serving a life sentence in France for his part in the assasination of Corsica’s prefect in 1998, died on Tuesday (March 22) after being attacked by a fellow prisoner days earlier.
The attack on Colonna sparked protests across Corsica, with demands for independence, autonomy or greater recognition for the island from the French State.
To some, Colonna is seen as a hero in the fight for Corsican independence. To others, he is simply a convicted murderer.
Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls said it was “unbearable” to make Colonna a “hero and martyr”.
Meanwhile, at least 1,500 people lined the streets in Ajaccio, Corsica’s largest city, to mark the arrival of Colonna’s coffin on Wednesday.
The collectivité de Corse, the island’s regional council, has chosen to fly the Corsican flag at half-mast this week in respect of Colonna. Mr Macron called the action “inappropriate” and “a mistake”.
Mr Macron had earlier called for calm in Corsica in the lead up to Colonna’s burial.
The island’s prefectural administration, the association du corps préfectoral, has echoed Mr Macron’s words.
They called for “respect” and “restraint” from Corsicans in this time of mourning in a statement released yesterday (March 24). They also paid tribute to the former Coriscan prefect Claude Érignac, who Colonna was convicted of murdering.
The murder of Claude Érignac
Claude Érignac took over as prefect of Corse-du-Sud in 1996 amid a period of intense separatist violence on the island.
He was assassinated on February 6, 1998, when he was shot three times in the neck and head while on his way to a classical music concert in Ajaccio.
The assassination of Mr Érignac was ordered by an independence movement that campaigned for the separation of Corsica from France. It shocked the nation at the time, with Mr Érignac being the first ever prefect to have been killed while serving office in France.
Colonna, who was a shepherd, was a member of the National Liberation Front of Corsica (NLFC), one of the most prominent nationalist movements on the island.
The NLFC and nationalists members were believed by police to be responsible for several attacks, including the bombing of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) in Strasbourg in 1997, the bombing of the Majestic Hotel in Vichy in 1997 and the hostage taking situation of the police gendarmerie of Pietrosella on September 6, 1997, in Corsica.
In 1999, a group of four nationalists were arrested and then a warrant was issued for the arrest of Colonna, who became the most wanted man in France after his name was revealed by the other individuals in the group.
However, when his fellow nationalists were arrested he disappeared into the Corsican mountains.
He was eventually captured on July 4, 2003 near Olmeto and transferred the following day to the La Santé prison in Paris.
Colonna always denied the charges made against him, and his lawyers stressed during his trial in 2007 that “there [was] no material proof” against him, “no fingerprints, no DNA, no phone records.” He was, however, sentenced to life in prison for assassination and being a member of a terrorist organisation.
He later appealed his conviction at the court of appeal, but his request was dismissed.
However, France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, then overturned his life sentence based on a procedural error. This led to a further trial for Colonna in 2011, where his conviction and life sentence were upheld.
Who attacked Colonna?
Colonna’s alleged attacker is 36-year-old Franck Elong Abé, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2016 for his assocition to a group planning terrorist activity.
Abé reportedly attacked Colonna and strangled him after the Corsican “spoke badly” of the prophet Muhammad.
France’s government’s spokesman Gabriel Attal has promised that there will be a full investigation into the “unacceptable attack”.