Film stokes Algeria's war memories

A French film about the poorly rewarded sacrifices by African troops to free occupied France has drawn praise in Algeria, but veterans say Paris has other hard truths to confront about its record in its former colony.

    Chirac wants equal pension for overseas and French veterans

    "Indigenes" - "Days of Glory" in English tells the story of four North Africans who fight their way through Italy and France to help free their colonial officers from Nazi occupation in World War Two.


    The Africans are told that their sacrifices will bring them the same rewards and recognition as their French comrades.


    Instead they are used like cannon fodder by officers to expose German machine-gun positions, and are passed up for promotion and end up with far smaller pensions than French troops.


    After seeing a preview of the film, Jacques Chirac, the French president, demanded last month that the pensions of thousands of overseas veterans be raised to the same level as those of their French peers.


    "Chirac's decision is fair but it does not mean we are going to forget about what happened during the occupation of our country," said 80-year-old Abd al-Rahman Choeib, one of the  80,000 Algerians who helped liberate France.

    Algeria's government, led by the National Liberation Front (FLN), which spearheaded the resistance against France, has not reacted to Chirac's pensions decision, despite positive comments from Morocco, Tunisia and some West African states.


    Bit of history

    In May 1945, thousands of Algerians who took to the streets to demand independence as Europe celebrated victory over Nazi Germany were killed in a crackdown by French forces.


    "Chirac's decision is fair but it does not mean we are going to forget about what happened during the occupation of our country." 

    Abd al-Rahman Choeib

    An overall liberation war to end more than a century of French colonisation began in 1954. The French army retaliated brutaly. 

    More than one million people are said to have been killed before independence came in 1962. 


    To many Algerian World War II veterans, France's resistance to demands for independence was a betrayal.


    "I defended France. But when in 1945 I heard about the massacre of my people in Algeria by the French army, I got hot with anger," said veteran Mesbah Tahar, 82.


    Younger generation

    Feelings run high even among younger generations. Some who saw the film in Algiers said the French government should apologise for acts of violence during the colonial period.


    "Instead of giving them [Algerian veterans] freedom as a reward, France massacred their people," one student said after seeing the film.


    France is keen to retain its strong commercial and cultural influence in Algeria, Africa's second-largest country, which is appealing for foreign investment to help rebuild after more than a decade of civil war.


    Paris wants a new friendship treaty it says will set aside the painful burden of the past but has hesitated over Algerian demands for a clear apology, fearing huge compensation claims. Animosity and disagreements over events of long ago rumble on.



    In July, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerian president, raised the temperature by saying that France's 130-year rule of the North African country was one of the "most barbaric forms of colonisation in history".


    Last year, France's National Assembly approved a law referring to the "positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa". Bouteflika said it was "hard not to be revolted" by the law, which was later repealed.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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