August 5, 1999
France Says Algeria Is Emerging From the Ordeal That Began in '92
French President Stirs Anger During Visit to West Africa (July 24)
Algeria from Microsoft Encarta Concise Encyclopedia
By CRAIG R. WHITNEY
ARIS -- When Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected president of
Algeria in April, in a one-candidate vote that hardly seemed likely
to end a civil war that has killed 100,000 people since 1992, the
French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, expressed "concern."
Three months later, Vedrine is singing a different tune since
his return last weekend from an official visit to Algiers.
"Algeria is emerging from its tragedy," he told the Journal du
His meetings with Bouteflika laid the groundwork, French
officials say, for renewing relations between France and its former
France, which took in nearly a million immigrants after Algeria
won its independence in 1962, feared that in the current conflict
violence between Islamic militants and the previous
military-dominated government could easily spread to French soil,
and terrorist bombings by an Islamic network that killed 8 people
and wounded 160 in France in 1995 seemed only to prove the point.
Having been accused by the Islamic militants of being too close
to the Algerian military authorities, France backed off after the
bombings but cracked down on the Algerian underground here and
ended the threat.
But after all six of Bouteflika's opponents in last spring's
presidential elections in Algeria dropped out, charging "massive
fraud" by the government, some French officials thought that the
new president, a former foreign minister, would have little chance
of ending the civil war. It began after the military authorities
canceled an election that Islamic parties seemed certain to win.
The violence is not over in Algeria, where 10 government
soldiers were killed and 5 were wounded over the weekend when
Muslim guerrillas ambushed them in a mountain village 180 miles
east of Algiers. But Bouteflika got the Islamic Salvation Army, one
of the biggest rebel factions, to agree to a peace accord in June
and later freed thousands of prisoners with pardons.
Bouteflika announced on Sunday that he would hold a referendum
on the peace agreement on Sept. 16. He said in a nationally
televised speech on Monday that the referendum would mark the end
of the insurgency and the return of stability to Algeria. "Foreign
capital needs security and confidence in order to return," he
Bouteflika is to visit Paris early next month on his way to the
annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York City. France's
prime minister, Lionel Jospin, told his cabinet this week that he
hoped Bouteflika would demonstrate improved relations with deeds as
well as words.
Vedrine seems convinced. "Something has happened," he told the
Journal du Dimanche. "President Bouteflika is there, he has made
statements and gestures that demonstrate a real opening, both at
the internal level, with the proposal for national reconciliation,
and on the international level. He has not hesitated to say that,
for him, the relationship with France was a fundamental one, or to
Only a few years ago, the military authorities in Algeria were
trying to eliminate French from public schools there, a sign of the
strains that have persisted much of the time since 1962, when
Algeria became a separate country after a war that took 15,000
French and up to a million Algerian lives.
And as recently as the beginning of 1998, hundreds of Algerian
villagers at a time were being massacred in attacks by the rebels,
and the few Europeans in the streets of Algiers felt dangerously
"We are in a radically different situation," Vedrine observed.
"The climate has changed. An atmosphere of freedom has returned to
Algiers. The French people I met in Algeria in the course of my
visit told me, 'In recent months, we are no longer afraid."'
Vedrine said that French consulates in Annaba and Oran would
reopen, as the main one in Algiers had recently, and that France
had increased the number of visas for Algerians from 50,000 to
150,000. Air France is also considering whether it is safe to
resume flights between France and Algeria, which were suspended
after a flight from Algiers to Paris was hijacked in December 1994.
Vedrine also appealed for French business to return to Algeria,
which last year imported $2 billion worth of food and industrial
equipment from France, compared with $960 million from the United
French and American oil companies never stopped operations in
the Algerian desert, and Algeria exported $10 billion worth of oil
last year, the largest share going to Italy, France and the United
"We can only encourage French enterprises that were there to
return, and for others to come," Vedrine said. "Today Algerian
authorities seem to me to be very favorable to their returning."