Republican News · Thursday 4 September 1997

[An Phoblacht]

Suspicions about Algerian massacres

By Dara Mac Neill

On the same weekend in which three people were killed in a car crash in the city of Paris, several hundred people lost their lives in the not-too-distant country of Algeria.

Confused media watchers might, for a moment, have mistakenly thought that the car crash had in fact occurred in Algeria, while several hundred deaths had taken place in Paris.

However, the death of a British royal, her partner and their driver was adjudged by the controllers of the media groups which set our news agenda to have been far more significant than the killing of perhaps 500 people in Algeria. Some had their throats slit, others reportedly were burned alive and some were simply shot dead.

According to official Algerian sources, 98 people had their throats cut or were burned alive on Friday 29 August in the town of Rais, near the capital city of Algiers. Unofficial estimates - which have frequently proved more reliable in the past - put the death toll at between 200-300.

That same evening an additional 40 people were killed, in a town south-west of Algiers. There are also unconfirmed reports of ``hundreds'' being killed by bomb blasts in the town of Oran.

The weekend death toll represents the single greatest loss of life in Algeria, since the army annulled elections in 1992, banned opposition parties, and took over the effective running of the country. Their coup d'état was launched when it became clear opponents of the government were certain to win the election.

Since then, some 60,000 people have died. The government of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has blamed virtually all those deaths on the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), an organisation brought into being after the army's 1992 coup.

There is no doubt that the GIA have been involved in the killing, sometimes in a quite brutal fashion. But as the war drags on, human rights groups have begun to suspect that it is the government which is behind the bulk of the killings: using the cover of a nationwide state of emergency and the spectre of murderous Islamic fanatics as a cover for their own deadly activities.

Indeed, one English journalist who recently visited the country recounted how people in Algiers - from human rights lawyers to taxi drivers - insist that the regime actually controls elements of the GIA, using them to eliminate opponents and terrorise the population into rejecting the Islamic political parties.

Thus reports of the 29 August massacre in the town of Rais detailed how survivors had repeatedly called for the assistance of the security forces, but to no avail. None arrived until well after the hooded killers had finished their work and departed the area.

Equally, there is the repeated refusal of the regime to engage in dialogue with the Islamic opposition, or even to engage the services of outside mediators. They appear happy with the status quo.

On the same weekend as the massacre in Rais, the regime left none in any doubt as to their position on negotiations. In quick succession, they rejected calls for talks from the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the Pope. The UN head was accused of interfering in the country's ``internal affairs.'' Equally, a call for dialogue and an immediate ceasefire on all sides, from the leader of Algeria's banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), has also gone unheeded.

By and large, the West has left the Algerian regime to its own devices. There have been no calls for intervention, no attempts to mediate. The French, it appears, are appalled at the prospect of an Islamic state being established so close to them, while both they and Britain have substantial economic interests in the region. The oil firm BP, for example, is currently enjoying the proceeds of its exploitation of the country's huge oil and gas reserves. Remarkably, for a country in such turmoil, the production of oil and gas has never once been interrupted or threatened.

Both countries have also benefited from lucrative arms sales to the regime, in the past. It will be interesting to see whether Labour's expressed intent of bringing ethical considerations to bear on British arms sales has any effect on the trade with Algeria.

Most convenient of all for the Western countries who pursue a policy of non-interference - which amounts to de facto support for the regime - is the spectre of Islam.

Repeatedly, press reports detail how the regime's opponents plan the establishment of a strict Islamic state, a la Iran. Evidence to support this is somewhat thin on the ground. Although it is certain that the Islamic Salvation Front would have made substantial gains in the 1992 elections, it is also true that any government in which they sat would have been a coalition, comprised of various political groupings. Equally, the repeated calls for dialogue issued by Islamic parties do not conform to the stereotype of fanatical zealots intent of wiping out all traces of secular society.

But the spectre of Islam can be used to justify virtually anything in Western eyes, even the officially-created hell on earth that currently exists.

Thieves wants money back

Members of the family of deposed Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, have applied to have their father's `goods and properties' returned to them.

A notorious thief, Somoza - like his father before him - ran Nicaragua as his own private fiefdom. Anything that wasn't nailed down was confiscated, sold or presented to cronies. Most infamously, Somoza embezzled blood dispatched to the country in the aftermath of the 1972 earthquake, which destroyed Managua. He later sold the blood on the international market. And while fleeing the victorious Sandinista forces in 1979, Somoza's planes were `forced' to jettison their bomb cargo over the suburbs of Managua, so loaded down with booty were they. Needless to say, when the Sandinistas came to power the national coffers were all but empty.

The attempt by his family to have his `property' returned to them was made possible by the election last October of President Arnoldo Aleman. Among those who assisted Aleman on the campaign trail were a reputed former member of Somoza's death squads, a nephew of the former dictator and a collection of Somocista ranchers and businessmen.

Almost immediately upon assuming office, Aleman began returning properties confiscated by the Sandinistas. He also announced that should the Somoza family wish to reclaim their father's ill-gotten gains, they could do so without ``any problem.''

The only bright note in this sordid tale is that a senior Nicaraguan official has said the process may take up to ten years. That and the fact that Somoza never lived long enough to enjoy the spoils of his thievery. He was `mysteriously' assassinated in Paraguay shortly after fleeing Nicaragua.

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