ALGERIA: Militants Follow Government In Rejecting Rome Accord

Neila Nassim and Barbara Borst

ALGIERS, Jan 21 1995 (IPS) - The two main Islamic guerrilla forces in Algeria have made public their objections to peace proposals drawn up in Rome on Jan 13, only days after the government rejected the accord as “foreign intervention in domestic affairs”.

In a statement released to French media Saturday, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), seen as the armed wing of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), criticised peace proposals outlined in Rome by eight opposition parties — including the FIS itself.

The AIS said opposition parties “unjustly” condemned the use of violence to overthrow the government, which took power in an army backed coup in January 1992 after the cancellation of elections the FIS were poised to win.

It made it clear that it “did not reject a political solution within the framework laid down by the FIS”. But the AIS warned that unless the jihad continued, efforts to force the army backed government to concede power would simply fail again.

The Armed Islamic Group (GIA), most radical of the armed militant groups, also confirmed Saturday that it would be maintaining its commitment to the “armed struggle”.

In a statement published Saturday by the London-based Saudi daily al-Hayat, the GIA rejected the Rome plan. It claimed the Algerian struggle as a ‘Jihad’ (holy war) resolvable only by victory, not a ‘civil war’ that could be negotiated to an end.

The violence that followed the 1992 takeover has claimed the lives of between 20,000-30,000 people.

The latest to die was the president of Algeria’s football federation, Rachid Haraigue, 58, shot dead early Saturday morning by suspected Islamic militants, according to a security service spokesman quoted by the national press agency.

Ahmed Attaf, the Algerian government official spokesperson, said on Wednesday in Algiers that the government rejected both the Rome peace plan and the very idea of talks “on foreign soil and under foreign sponsorship”.

“We consider them as non-events with regard to what the Algerian people expect as a resolution of the crisis they are enduring,” Attaf said, according to APS.

Hours after the government rejected the accord a car bomb in a market outside Algiers killed two and wounded 20, and shortly after a member of Algeria’s transitional parliament was killed in the Algiers suburb of Dely-Ibrahim.

“We tried to do our best (in Rome),” Anwar Haddam, head of the FIS parliamentary delegation in exile, told IPS in an interview. “Now it is up to the international community.”

The Rome declaration was signed in the name of the FIS by Haddam. The movement’s executive leader Rabah Kebir had earlier said its two main leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, under house arrest in Algiers also backed the text of the agreement.

The rejection of the accord by the principal combatants in the conflict, and the inability of Algerians outside Algeria to bring them to heel, leaves little hope for an early end to the conflict.

Speaking after the Algerian government rejected the accord but before the GIA-AIS statements, Haddam remained confident that the Rome accord was still a viable framework for a peace deal.

He said the platform details the “common ground of political Islam and Western democracy; non-use of violence to gain power, multi-partyism, alternation of power, supremacy of the law, human rights for all regardless of race or sex and non-interference of the army in political affairs.

“The authorities will end up accepting the accords,” agreed analyst Raymond Benhaim of the Paris based Forum of Mediterranean Citizens. “But not until there is real change within the army.

“We are going to experience a very difficult period while there’s a fight inside the army between the political wing that wants dialogue and the violent wing that wants scorched earth. The next six months are going to be very violent.”

Benhaim said the Rome talks illustrated how the FIS “was obliged to talk with the democratic opposition, in the largest sense,” because one-to-one negotiations with the military-dominated government failed.

The three fundamental points of the Rome accord, aside from a ceasefire and a return to democracy also require the FIS’s explicit commitment to multi-party democracy, Benhaim said. He claimed Madani had unsucessfully planned to orchestrate a move from one-party rule by the army to one-party rule by the FIS.

In the meantime the west is increasing pressure on the government to open talks with the radicals.

“We will not grow weary of calling for dialogue because there is no other way out,” said French foreign minister Alain Juppe Thursday. In Washington U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau said the U.S. continues “to counsel a path toward political dialogue and return to political processes”.

“I hope these statements of the United States, the European Union and certain members of the political class in France,” said Haddam, “will be followed by concrete steps so the government will accept the platform and start serious negotiations.”

But a well informed official source who requested anonymity said that western calls for dialogue are appealing rhetoric that misses the point. He doubted the existence of Islamic moderates with whom the government could negotiate.

“France and America encourage dialogue with all parties that renounce violence. That’s what the presidency has said for a long time. And it has taken the initiative.

“There is no need for pressure. The dialogue is open with all,” he said. But talks have failed repeatedly, thus convincing the government that the next step should be presidential elections later this year.

But Haddam said that given Algeria’s insecurity, he doubted the government will be able to hold presidential elections this year “except to elect themselves”.

— Interior ministers from six nations ordering the Mediterranean met in Tunis Saturday to discuss the rise of Islamic militancy in the region.

The informal talks were attended by Algeria, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia. However Morocco declined to participate in the session.

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