In Algeria the year 2000 was one of undiminished violence and bloodshed, very different from the harmony that president Abdul-Aziz Bouteflika claims to have ushered in by his offer of amnesty to the country’s armed groups. According to figures in a secret report revealed by an Arabic newspaper on January 6, 9,123 people were killed during the year, while the material damage resulting from the violence came to $800 million. The report, prepared by the Algerian ministry of defence and cited by the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, admits that the figures are similar to those for 1994, when clashes between the security forces and Islamic groups were supposedly at their highest level.
The newspaper, claiming that its source is an Algerian official who has read the report, gives the following breakdown of casualties:
According to al-Quds al-Arabi, the casualty report (distributed to the presidency, intelligence directorate and the ministry of interior) also includes an assessment of group-massacres: 71 of them in the year. The number of victims of a massacre is said to vary from 4 to 21. The average number of Algerians killed each day of 2000 is given as 25.
The report disposes of Bouteflika’s claim that the country has recovered some national harmony. It does not answer the accusations of human-rights groups, such as Amnesty International, that the government refuses to explain why many Algerians (more than 4,000) in detention have disappeared without trace. Nor does it explain who is carrying out the killings, which in any case demonstrate that the regime is failing to protect its own people, irrespective of who is liquidating them. But the fact that even a secret investigation by an official intelligence organisation is unwilling to research the matter thoroughly, and the high number of unexplained deaths, both lend credence to the allegation that the security forces are responsible for the disappearances of people from detention-centres and for the massacres that the government blames on ‘terrorists’.
..Amnesty International (which has always opposed the immunity given to member of the security forces and government-armed militias) is now criticising Bouteflika’s decision to grant amnesties to armed groups. In its latest report, the organisation has called on Algiers to investigate the role of the security forces, militias allied to the government, and armed groups opposing it, in all the killings and disappearances. The report in particular attacks the regime’s practice of maintaining utter silence about the security forces, refusing to answer any questions at all from journalists, human-rights groups and missing people’s families.
The Algerian authorities are unlikely to accede to Amnesty International’s demands, particularly now that credible accusations are being levelled at the Algerian junta. The latest charge is made in a new book by an Algerian businessman, who survived a massacre in 1997 and now lives in France. Yous Nesroullah alleges that a special death-squad attached to the security forces was behind the massacre of Bentalha, a town on the outskirts of Algiers, in which 400 people were murdered one September night. Confirming other survivors’ accounts, Nesroullah says in his book that the army was present when the massacre was taking place, and that soldiers blocked access to where the killings were being committed, in order to prevent relatives from coming to the victims’ rescue. Throughout the five hours the mayhem lasted, a military helicopter hovered over the area, and soldiers on the ground never intervened. When the mass murderers finished their work, they left the scene unhindered.
Nesroullah, who as been described in western media reports as “no friend of Islamists”, is not alone in accusing the Algerian generals who rule from behind the scenes of complicity in the killings. The Movement of Free Algerian Officers, run by dissident Algerian intelligence officers in exile, now posts on its website regular accounts of what goes on in the country. Even western newspapers, themselves “no friend of Islamists”, do not dismiss the accounts out of hand.
A recent report in the Economist, London, quotes experts as saying that the explanations offered by the website are “a more plausible picture of what goes on than the simplistic version that has gone largely unchallenged in the west”. The report, also considers which Nesroullah’s conclusions, to agree with those of other experts. These experts are not Islamic activists, needless to say.