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Yvan Colonna, Corsican Jailed for French Prefect’s Murder, Dies at 61

PARIS — Yvan Colonna, a Corsican activist who was convicted and sentenced to life in jail for the homicide of a high French official, and who grew to become a logo of Corsica’s nationalist motion and of the Mediterranean island’s ambivalent relations with mainland France, died on Monday in a hospital in Marseille. He was 61.

His attorneys confirmed his dying in a statement.

Mr. Colonna died three weeks after being strangled and suffocated by one other inmate in a jail on the French mainland, the place he was serving a life sentence for the 1998 homicide of Claude Érignac, a government-appointed prefect in Corsica.

The jail assault had left Mr. Colonna in a coma, infuriating many in Corsica and sparking violent protests. Corsica is nearer to Italy than France in language, tradition and geography, and it’s dwelling to a nationalist motion that has largely renounced violence however stays deeply rooted on the island.

“His dying is an injustice and a tragedy that may mark Corsica’s up to date historical past and its individuals,” Gilles Simeoni, Mr. Colonna’s former lawyer and the pinnacle of the manager council that oversees Corsica, stated in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr. Colonna, who had at all times claimed his innocence in Mr. Érignac’s homicide, was first sought by the French police in 1999, after investigators arrested a gaggle of males suspected of involvement within the killing. A number of of them recognized Mr. Colonna because the gunman, though they’d later retract their statements, accusing the police of getting pressured them.

He evaded seize and went on the run. An intense manhunt that stretched as far as Venezuela ended 4 years later at a cramped farmhouse in southern Corsica, the place the police lastly discovered Mr. Colonna — referred to as “the shepherd of Cargèse,” the title of his household’s hometown, within the French press.

These years spent hiding among the many island’s mountains and scrubland turned Mr. Colonna right into a storied determine in Corsica — a dwelling embodiment of the island’s rugged, rural roots and of its cussed defiance of the French state.

“He grew to become a sort of delusion for the nationalist motion,” stated Thierry Dominici, a Corsica skilled on the College of Bordeaux. That standing grew along with his arrest and his claims of innocence.

Mr. Colonna was discovered responsible of Mr. Érignac’s homicide and sentenced to life in 2007 by a courtroom in Paris. The conviction was upheld on attraction in 2009. That second conviction was later overturned on procedural grounds, however he was as soon as once more sentenced to life at a remaining trial in 2011.

A majority of Corsicans have been shocked when Mr. Érignac, who acted because the French state consultant on the island, was shot at the back of the pinnacle whereas strolling to a theater in Ajaccio, Corsica’s largest metropolis. Hundreds marched in protest after the homicide, which continues to be thought of the gravest act of anti-state violence in a decades-long battle on the island that has seen a whole lot of bombings, shootings and arrests, largely after the Seventies.

However many in Corsica additionally felt that the state was unfairly treating Mr. Colonna, and the opposite prisoners convicted within the case, by preserving them jailed on the mainland and refusing to switch them to the island, the place they’d be nearer to their households.

The assault on Mr. Colonna, who was purportedly underneath shut surveillance in a jail close to the southern French metropolis of Arles, compounded that criticism, despite the fact that the federal government then shortly took steps to switch him and different prisoners to the island.

On March 2, he was viciously attacked by one other inmate, a identified Islamist extremist who had been convicted on terrorism fees and had a historical past of violent acts in jail. The inmate, recognized by French authorities as Franck Elong Abé, 35, beat, strangled and suffocated Mr. Colonna within the jail gymnasium.

Mr. Elong Abé later instructed investigators that he had heard Mr. Colonna make “blasphemous” feedback. Prosecutors have opened an investigation. However it’s nonetheless unclear how the assault was in a position to final practically 10 minutes with none intervention from jail guards.

Preliminary reactions in Corsica to Mr. Colonna’s dying have been calm, with small funeral processions and gatherings across the island.

However after scrambling to quell the protests this month by floating the opportunity of Corsican “autonomy” — a difficult matter in extremely centralized France — the federal government is bracing for extra demonstrations and hoping to comprise a brand new outburst of nationalist violence simply weeks earlier than France’s presidential election. One of many foremost nationalist teams, the Nationwide Entrance for the Liberation of Corsica, laid down arms in 2014 however issued new threats final week after Mr. Colonna was assaulted.

On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron appealed for “calm and duty.”

“There might be penalties, as a result of we can’t let such acts be dedicated in our prisons,” he told France Bleu radio. The federal government has ordered an inner investigation to determine any failings on the a part of the jail administration.

Mr. Dominici stated that Mr. Colonna remained a potent image for Corsica’s politicized youth, who grew up after the battle had calmed down however are nonetheless angered by points like unaffordable housing on the island — a preferred vacation spot for French individuals from the mainland — and who really feel that the nationalists now in workplace have executed little to reply requires extra independence.

“A spark was all that was required to ship them into the streets, and that spark was the assault on Yvan Colonna,” Mr. Dominici stated.

Yvan Colonna was born on April 7, 1960, in Ajaccio to Jean-Hugues Colonna, a bodily schooling trainer who later grew to become a Socialist lawmaker, and Cécile Riou, who was additionally a bodily schooling trainer.

His household moved to Good, on the French Riviera, when he was a young person, however he moved again to Corsica in 1981 after finishing highschool and navy service. He settled in Cargèse, the place he raised sheep and have become an energetic member of a few of Corsica’s extra hardened militant circles.

In 1997, after a police station in southern Corsica was bombed and a number of other officers have been briefly taken hostage, prosecutors accused Mr. Colonna of appearing as a lookout within the assault and charged him with collaborating in a terrorist conspiracy.

He was convicted in absentia in 2001 for his position in that case. The bullets utilized in Mr. Érignac’s killing have been traced again to weapons that had been stolen from officers in 1997 throughout the assault on the police station.

Mr. Colonna is survived by his spouse, Stéphanie, and their son, in addition to a son from a earlier relationship.

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