Europe’s Algeria Mission Proves Fruitless


Three low-ranking European government ministers wrapped up a one-day visit to Algeria on Tuesday, a gesture of solidarity to express the world’s shock and alarm over the violence there that has killed more than 65,000 people.

But even before they departed the North African country, the Europeans admitted that their fact-finding mission had not led to any concrete steps to ease the suffering of Algeria’s terrorized communities.

Even while they were visiting, a bus bomb killed four people and injured 24 in Algiers, the capital, and an additional 20 people, including children, were reported slaughtered in their homes or at roadblocks.


Although the world has been appalled at the incessant rise in the death toll--more than 1,100 people have died in the country in the past three weeks alone, often in circumstances of incredible barbarity--leaders have been frustrated by their inability to translate that alarm into meaningful initiatives to bring peace.

Foreign governments recognize that their practical options to end the bloodshed are limited as long as Algerian President Liamine Zeroual and his backers in the military reject any international role to mediate between the authorities and armed anti-government groups who say they are fighting for Islam. And without the regime’s cooperation, the United Nations, nongovernmental human rights groups and foreign governments lack the access and protection needed to independently investigate the killings.

“The Algerian crisis is still caught in a vicious cycle,” said Qusai Saleh Darwish, a Paris-based specialist on Algeria.

Derek Fatchett, the British junior minister who led the British-Austrian-Luxembourgian “troika” to Algiers, expressed disappointment that Algerian leaders had again rejected a proposal to let U.N. human rights monitors enter the country.

“We had hoped that the Algerian government would agree to issue an invitation . . . but they were not ready to do so,” said Fatchett, whose only satisfaction was that Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf agreed to visit London next week to keep talking with the Europeans about the crisis.

Algiers’ refusal to admit investigators has fueled claims by the government’s Islamist and democratic foes that authorities are trying to hide a role by security forces in the violence.


The outlawed Islamic Salvation Front, which was the country’s leading party until it was banned in 1992, asked in a statement two weeks ago: “Why are the Algerian authorities afraid of an inquiry, if they have nothing to blame themselves for?”

Meanwhile, published reports in Europe have quoted asylum-seekers as saying they are former police officers who were made to pose as Islamists and participate in massacres against civilians on behalf of the regime. Suspicion of government involvement in massacres already had been growing because of the apparent ease with which attackers move about the country.

In the Algiers suburbs of Sidi Rais and Bentalha last year, for instance, hundreds of people were slaughtered within walking distance of army outposts. But the government says that calls for outside probes only confuse the issues and are an insult to the victims, because they deflect blame away from the real killers.

Theories abound for why the government might want to attack its own people. There is speculation that the massacres are meant to eradicate Islamic sympathizers or to incite hatred of the armed groups.

The Islamic Salvation Front has said that the Armed Islamic Group, rebels blamed for much of the killing, is rife with government agents who have turned renegade, that these people are behind many of the massacres and that the slayings are intended to strike out at communities that once supported the Front or to enable the killers to extort money or plunder property.

But it is not as though the military has not been trying to defeat the armed groups. Former U.S. Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, testifying before Congress last year, noted that there have been repeated crackdowns and that some have succeeded temporarily. In his view, though, the Islamists have proved resilient because of their appeals to the very poor and disaffected.


“The armed groups have always been able to refill their ranks from among a mass of angry young people who suffer from an array of economic and social ills,” he said, noting that unemployment among the young is at almost 70% and that there is a shortage of 2 million apartments.