Madani Mezrag, former chief of the armed wing of the now-defunct Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), said on Tuesday that the country would achieve stability only if a partial six-month amnesty that ended on Monday were extended and expanded.

 

"A general amnesty is the solution to ending the Algerian crisis," Mezrag, who negotiated the surrender of his armed group in 1997, told a news conference.

 

"A general amnesty would include the right for FIS leaders to resume political activity."

 

An Islamist uprising was triggered in 1992 when the army, fearing an Iranian-style revolution, scrapped legislative polls the FIS party was poised to win. It banned the FIS and imposed a state of emergency, measures which are still in effect.

 

Tens of thousands of Algerians answered a call for a holy war to overthrow the state. Up to 200,000 people were killed.

 

To end the conflict, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the country's president, offered a six-month partial amnesty to the several hundred rebels still fighting the army in exchange for laying down their arms.

 

The amnesty, part of a reconciliation charter that took effect on February 28 and expired on Monday, did not apply to rebels who massacred, raped or set off bombs in public places.

 

Forgiveness

 

President Bouteflika is expected
to extend the amnesty

Officials have hinted that the amnesty may be extended, saying Bouteflika will decide on the matter in the coming days

 

Mezrag said the state should not only extend the amnesty but widen it to grant blanket forgiveness to anyone who took part in the revolt, be they now in prison, in exile or still fighting.

 

"We are against setting a limit of time to the amnesty plan. I don't understand why we should close the doors of dialogue and just keep the doors of violence open," he said.

 

The government says between 250 and 300 fighters have given themselves up during the amnesty, leaving several hundred still at large. Also, as part of the reconciliation process, more than 2,200 former fighters have been freed from prison.