Island of Beauty and Death

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Saturday Aug. 5. Dawn is breaking over Bastia in northern Corsica. It's closing time at U Fanale, a bar near the old harbor. Two men burst in and open fire with .38 specials. As the intruders slip away in the morning sun, four men lie in a pool of blood, dead or mortally wounded.

Monday Aug. 7. It's 8.45 a.m. in L'Ile-Rousse, some 30 km west of Bastia. Jean-Michel Rossi and Jean-Claude Fratacci are sitting on the terrace of the bar La Piscine. Two groups of men walk over and open up with machine pistols, automatic rifles and shotguns. Fratacci is hit by 25 bullets and doesn't have time to draw his Beretta 9-mm automatic. Rossi is lying on the pavement riddled with buckshot when the men pump five bullets into his head.

The French call Corsica the Island of Beauty. It is also an island of guns and death. Police believe the Bastia killings arose out of a quarrel earlier that night. Two men were arrested. The execution of Rossi and Fratacci looks more complex: Rossi, 44, was a well-known nationalist leader who this year co-authored a book in which he dished dirt on his former comrades and rejected an independent Corsica as unrealistic.

Corsica has been on edge since the French government concluded negotiations with Corsican representatives last month. The resulting "Matignon proposals" include devolving legislative powers to the Corsican Assembly, tax breaks and teaching the Corsican dialect in public schools. Nationalist leader and Assembly member Jean-Guy Talamoni who negotiated the Matignon agreement has declared that "if there hadn't been political violence in Corsica for the past 30 years ... there wouldn't be any peace process today." But as last week's killings show, the dividing line between political violence and lethal thuggery in Corsica is a fine one.