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ROME - A country house once owned by the head of the Sicilian Mafia has been reborn as a bed and breakfast.

Toto Riina, now serving life, was the most brutal and successful of Sicilian Mafia leaders and evaded arrest for 24 years until the law finally caught up with him in 1993.

Now, 15 years on, tourists in the empty, rolling landscape of Gorgo del Drago south of Palermo in the direction of Corleone will be able to taste the ghoulish delights of sleeping where Riina slept, eating where he ate, and discuss sightseeing schedules where the boss and his cronies decided who should be shot, strangled or dissolved in acid next.

The large, plain stone farmhouse standing in 40,000sq m of land was converted into an "agriturismo" by volunteers from the Pio La Torre co-operative, an anti-Mafia organisation based in Palermo - named after the first Italian MP to be killed by the Mafia after the war. Rooms in the hotel will cost ¬60-¬70 ($130 - $152) a night, and the restaurant will seat 88.

The law enabling the state to confiscate Mafia property was passed in 1982. Since then thousands of homes, shops, farms and apartments have been taken over. Many of them, like the farmhouse hotel, have been handed over to volunteers who have converted them to socially useful purposes.

On vineyards 260,000 bottles of wine are now produced every year. The wine is sold in a shop in Palermo once run by the Mob, while a formerly Mafia-owned apartment in Palermo is the headquarters of Addio Pizzo, the movement to resist Mafia demands for protection money.

Inaugurating the new hotel, the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, said, "This is the frontier which we wish to extend, the attack on [Mafia] property. Today we will give the go-ahead to a new law authorising the immediate use of these goods. On this spot, which has seen the barbarism of the dishonourable society, I confirm the commitment of the state to eliminate the Mafia."

- INDEPENDENT