Algerian Radicals Indicate Support for Peace Talks


Algeria's most radical guerrilla group, which claimed responsibility for the Christmas Eve hijacking of an Air France jet, has for the first time indicated qualified support for a negotiated peace in Algeria, raising a small hope Monday of a break in the three-year civil war there.

The Algerian government was studying the communique issued Sunday by the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, the most radical of the Islamic fundamentalist opponents to Algeria's regime and one that has refused all negotiations in the past.

The GIA supported other Algerian opposition groups who agreed in Rome over the weekend on seven conditions for opening talks with the government. Among those conditions are the release of Islamic leaders, the creation of a transitional administration and the lifting of a 3-year-old state of emergency.

While the prospects of a peaceful solution in Algeria are perhaps enhanced by the GIA's apparent change of heart, analysts said it will take a lot more movement to bring about peace in the North African country.

First of all, it is unlikely the Algerian government will agree to the major concessions proposed by its opponents at the Rome meeting.

The government denounced the Rome meeting in advance, insisting that its opponents first renounce violence before coming to the table. And its interior minister said the proposals endorse terrorism as a means of changing the government in Algeria.

In addition, the GIA set out a few conditions of its own, including punishment under "the law of God" for Algerian generals leading the government against Islamic fundamentalists and a ban on Communist and atheist parties.

Political analysts in the region said the GIA may simply be trying to reshape its own image, which was hurt by the Air France hijacking and, a day after that crisis ended, the murder of four Roman Catholic priests, apparently in retaliation for the slaying of the hijackers. The GIA, which is trying to isolate the Algerian government from its foreign backers, is believed responsible for the bulk of the killings of foreigners in Algeria.

In its communique issued in Paris, the GIA said it is ready "to stop the war" if authorities accept the Rome demands, "in order to safeguard the interest of the nation and avoid more wars."

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