Algiers to step up attacks on militants




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 14 January 2000

Algerian military forces were yesterday preparing to escalate attacks on Islamist militants who have refused to accept the terms of a six- month amnesty, which expired yesterday.

Thousands of soldiers, paramilitary police and republican guards backed by helicopter gunships were deployed yesterday in the north-eastern and south-western areas of Algeria, where Islamist hardliners have remained active, witnesses said. Extra forces have also been deployed to protect militants whose decision to surrender has led to the threat of attack from others who have rejected the amnesty.

“The risk now is for those who won’t accept the policy of reconciliation. Now the security forces will take action against them,” said a well-placed political source in Algiers yesterday.

Since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered Algeria’s militants the chance to leave their hideouts as part of a strategy aimed at creating “civil concord” launched last July, officials say around 1,500 militants have surrendered their weapons.

Army officers were yesterday quoted as saying the amnesty may be extended until tomorrow. This would allow fighters to make their way to towns and villages, where they can surrender to local authorities.

Some reports yesterday suggested that Hassan Hattab, leader of the extremist Appeal and Struggle group, may be preparing to surrender. The group broke away from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) whose leader, Antar Zouabri, has rejected the amnesty but some of whose fighters have surrendered. Nine combatants of the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) were yesterday reported to have appeared near Jijel to negotiate with the army on the details of the demobilisation of an estimated 1,000 fighters.

© Financial Times