Algerian amnesty draws in Islamists

Between 250 and 300 Islamist fighters have so far surrendered under an ongoing government amnesty, Algeria's interior ministry says.

    Abdulaziz Bouteflika, the president of Algeria

    Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni, Algeria's interior minister, told state radio on Sunday: "What we can say is that the move has provided positive results, as between 250 and 300 elements have given themselves up with their weapons."

    Algeria's amnesty for members of the country's several armed Islamist groups began in late February and expires on August 28.

    The authorities have also freed 2,200 prisoners and are planning to pay compensation to victims of Algeria's civil war and people who lost their jobs for suspected links to rebel groups.

    Algerian media speculate that the government might extend the amnesty, part of a package of measures aimed at fostering national reconciliation, in the hope that more fugitives surrender.

    Civil war

    Algeria is now at the tail-end of a civil war that began in 1992 when the military cancelled elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an opposition party, was poised to win.

    An Islamist holds

    a Quran at a rally in Algiers in May 1991

    Up to 200,000 people were killed in the following decade of violence.

    The FIS gradually fragmented into various factions, some of which still fight against the government, carrying out attacks on the army and police, as well as on civilians.

    After a surge in fighting in early 2006, attacks have fallen in recent weeks.

    "There is a detente [with regard to the security situation]. This is very important," Zerhouni said.

    Zerhouni did not give the number of rebels still at large. He has previously said that 800 were still active. The largest active group is the Group for Salvation, Preaching and Combat (GSPC) which has relations with al-Qaeda.

    On 1 August, 25 GSPC members surrendered to the government near the town of Tipaza and accepted its amnesty. It was one of the largest single surrenders of Islamist fighters.

    Continuing challenges

    But even with support for the GSPC and other armed groups apparently in freefall, Algeria may still face insecurity for years to come, according to Lies Boukraa, an Algerian academic and writer.

    "We're in a phase of residual terrorism; terrorism in decay in which whole segments are moving into out-and-out criminal activity, including organised crime and serious crime," he said.

    Boukraa said he expected no more than 150 rebel attacks in Algeria in 2006, sharply down from 2,000 in 2000.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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