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Occupied Arab World

UN sends its laundrymen into Algeria to give junta a clean bill

Mahmoud Ahmed Shaikh

United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has sent an information-gathering six-member panel to Algeria on the invitation, and conditions, of the Algerian government in the hope that it would generate ideas on how the world body might help end Algeria’s crisis. But, given the nature of the political and legal conditions it has accepted, the mission can only succeed in laundering the appalling crimes of a murderously repressive junta.

As a matter of fact, the regime of president Liamine Zeroual decided to invite the UN panel in the first place to head off foreign intervention in the conflict. Pressure for international action began to escalate last year, when the endless massacre of civilians in the vicinity of army strongholds could no longer be blamed on Islamic activists. Algiers and its western allies could no longer disguise the fact that the main victims of the massacres were supporters of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and that the government troops watched the butchery but refused to intervene.

The junta was, indeed, so opposed to foreign intervention last year that when FIS leaders Shaikh Abassi Madani, who had been released from prison, sent a letter to Annan suggesting UN mediation in the conflict he was put under house arrest, although Zeroual was keen to clinch a deal with FIS at the time.

Nowadays, everytime the issue of negotiations with the movement is raised, the president curtly replies: ‘The file is closed’ - an expression that is popular with Arab dictators, who seem to believe that explaining public issues at the insistence of others is beneath their dignity or a sign of weakness. And Annan’s laundrymen, led by a former Portuguese president, Mario Soares, are not in a position to re-open this file or any other file, despite their description as a fact-finding panel.

The mission, for instance, is not mandated to investigate human rights violations, including the ‘disappearances’ of young men that are blighting the lives of thousands of Algerian families. The authorities say there are no disappearances - claiming that the ‘disappeared’ have joined the armed groups or been abducted by them. The government - anxious to block any investigations into this outrage and other violations by its own security forces has repeatedly, and with impugnity, refused to allow a visit by the UN Special rapporteurs on Torture and on Summary, Arbitary and Extra-judicial Executions.

Worse than this, the panel has already put the seal of approval on the regime’s past crimes by simply accepting to see only those representatives of political organizations that have been declared by the authorities as ‘legal’. Representatives of FIS, the only party which has won free political elections (in 1992) are not ‘legal’ and are being ignored by the panel. This seeks to validate the cancellation of the 1992 poll, the subsequent banning of FIS, and launders the regime’s involvement in the massacres and other violations.

In fact the UN mission’s whole exercise seems to be to ‘produce a document which exonerates the regime from any responsibility in the massacres but maintains pressure for more openness and for an improvement in human rights and civil liberties’ - as a report in the London-based Financial Times quoted diplomats as saying. The report said western governments were closely following the work of the mission, which began on July 23.

The west, which has its eyes on Algeria’s oil and gas resources, wants to have the North African country where it exactly has other Muslim countries with strategic resources and locations: a position of weakness where it has very little bargaining power but which, at the same time, is not too blood-stained to prevent normal diplomatic and business ties. (This is in itself pure hypocrisy because the west is doing open business with Serbia - the most blood-soaked country in the world).

The UN secretary-general, by sending in his laundrymen, is bailing out the Algerian junta to accommodate western governments’ concerns. Kofi Annan is not a new-comer to this pursuit. He accommodated US interests in Rwanda in 1994 by failing, as chief of UN peacekeeping operations, to prevent the slaughter of Tutsis by the Hutu junta although he had been alerted to the existence of a genocide plan by his military representatives in the country (See Muslimedia International -Archives - May 16-31, 1998).

If Annan was not concerned by the plight of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, there is no pressing reason why he should be exercised by human rights violations or massacres in Algeria, whose main victims are supporters of the country’s Islamic movement. He is strangely silent on the plight of the Iraqi people who are battered by UN sanctions (see report page 12), which the US and Britain refuse to lift, although the rest of the UN security council’s members are calling for an end to them. And he blamed Iraq for the latest US and British decision to veto a resolution for ending the sanctions.

But one need not analyse Annan’s motives to realize the UN panel’s scope and aims. It is controversial that even its chief, Mario Soares, has felt the need to appeal publicly to its critics not to pre-judge its intentions. In a newspaper interview on July 26, he said his mission’s members were not ‘inspectors or judges, but people of good faith.’

He could understand the scepticism of the Algerian opposition, he said, but complained that ‘they are judging us before listening to us and even knowing who we are.’ And when he proceeded to explain why he was not seeing banned parties, he only succeeded in adding insult to injury, and unwillingly proved why the Algerian opposition were right to prejudge the panel.

He said he would examine requests for meetings from representatives of ‘the former FIS ‘ if they were within the law (emphasis added) and presented themselves on an individual basis, not as members of a banned party. ‘I am ready to see anyone who is legal and who wants to see me or requests to speak to me.’

‘People of good faith’ hardly go to such contortions to cover up for a murderous regime. Certainly, the Collective - an organization set up by families of ‘disappeared sons’ to prove government involvement - seems to have no confidence in the panel as ‘men of good faith.’ It chose to send a 10-member delegation of mothers of ‘disappeared sons’ to Europe as the UN panel began to visit Algeria to explain to the world how the security forces were responsible for ‘the disappearances.’

Muslimedia: August 16-31, 1998

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 12

Rabi' al-Thani 23, 14191998-08-16

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