The killings took place in what is known as Buqat al Muqam, in the Chlef region, 200 kilometres west of the capital Algiers. No further details were immediately available.

 

Successive Algerian governments have been locked in a struggle against armed Islamic groups since 1991 when general elections in which the Islamic opposition parties were poised to win were annulled. Accusations have since been traded between the Algerian government and Islamic groups regarding responsibility for violence and massacres.

 

Although the civil war has waned in recent years, the conflict has killed at least 66 people since the beginning of the month and nearly 480 since the start of the year.

 

The decade-long violence has left between 100,000 and 150,000 dead.

 

Hostages

 

The disappeared tourists are
thought to be somewhere in the
Sahara desert
Elsewhere, the Swiss foreign ministry announced that Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey held talks on Saturday at Switzerland's mission to the United Nations about proposals for ensuring the safe return of a group of tourists presumed to be held hostage by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

  

A Dutchman, four Swiss and 10 Germans went missing during the winter in the Algerian Sahara and are thought to have been taken hostage by the Islamic group, a ministry spokesman said.

 

Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem assured Calmy-Rey that the Algerian authorities would do everything in their power to effect their safe release.

 

Algeria's armed forces stormed a desert hideout of GSPC rebels earlier this month, freeing 17 European tourists held hostage for more than two months.