Corsican separatists 'to end military operations'

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Corsican separatists 'to end military operations'

Ajaccio (France) (AFP) - An underground separatist group in Corsica said Tuesday it would end "military operations", two years after the main militant movement on the French island laid down its arms.

The so-called October 22 splinter group of the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) made the announcement during a night-time news conference at a location unknown to the six journalists present, in line with FLNC practice since it was formed in May 1976.

Reading out a statement, a hooded spokesman wearing black fatigues said the decision was made to allow the Mediterranean island's new assembly, led by nationalists, "to calmly fulfil its mandate, as well as, we are sure, subsequent ones".

A nationalist coalition -- including politicians campaigning for outright independence from the mainland -- scored an unprecedented victory in Corsica during French regional elections in December.

The spokesman said the splinter group would begin "a process of demilitarisation", nearly two years after the main FLNC movement known as the Combatants Union announced that it would end its armed struggle.

- Prisoners must be freed -

"The end of military operations does not mean a laying down of weapons," the spokesman said, however, flanked by around 30 hooded militants, wielding assault rifles and rocket launchers as he sat at a table adorned by the Corsican flag, dimly lit by small lamps.

He added: "The farewell to arms will not be total until the return of political prisoners and the end of prosecution for all the wanted militants. Not before."

Several October 22 members were convicted by a Paris court in 2012 for attacks committed between 2004 and 2006 on administrative and political targets.

The FLNC and various other factions intent on self-rule demanded recognition of "national rights" including citizenship, language and culture.

There have been thousands of attacks in the 40-year struggle during which nine police officers have been killed.

The FLNC has also been blamed for armed robberies and extortion through the imposition of so-called revolutionary taxes.

But the group suffered from internal feuds in the 1990s, a decade when it also staged the assassination of Claude Erignac, the prefect of Corsica and the island's top official.

Corsica was conquered by the French in the 18th century and was the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Today, the island with a population of around 300,000 is a popular tourist destination, famed for its spectacular beauty and climate.