President Emmanuel Macron said France and Algeria should move beyond their “painful” shared history and look to the future as he began a three-day visit to the former colony.
“We have a complex, painful common past, and it has at times prevented us from looking at the future,” Macron said after meeting Algerian counterpart President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Thursday.
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Speaking at a press conference, Tebboune responded by saying the visit yielded “encouraging results” and he hoped it would “open up new perspectives for partnership and cooperation with France”.
He said they discussed how to bring stability to Libya, the Sahel region, and the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
French colonial rule in Algeria and the bitter independence war that ended it in 1962 have haunted relations between the two countries for decades.
Ties with Algiers have become more important for Paris because of the war in Ukraine increasing the demand in Europe for North African gas, as well as surging migration across the Mediterranean.
European nations are looking to Algeria — Africa’s biggest gas exporter with direct pipelines to Spain and Italy — to end their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.
Meanwhile, Algiers is seeking to capitalise on higher energy prices to lock in European investment.
Macron has attempted multiple times to turn the page with its former colony. In 2017, before his election, he described French actions during the 1954-62 war that killed hundreds of thousands of Algerians as a “crime against humanity”.
The declaration won him popularity in Algeria but was politically controversial in France, which is home to more than four million people of Algerian origin.
However, he provoked a storm in Algeria last year when he ruled out issuing an official apology and suggested Algerian national identity did not exist before French rule.
He also appeared to accuse Algeria’s ruling elite — which is still dominated by the generation that fought for independence — of rewriting the history of the independence struggle based on a hatred of France.
Algeria withdrew its ambassador for consultations and closed its airspace to French planes, complicating the French military mission in the Sahel.
Before meeting with Tebboune, Macron visited a monument to Algerians killed in the war, placing a wreath there. He said the two governments would establish a joint committee of historians to study archives of the colonial era.
French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died during Algeria’s bloody war for independence, 400,000 of them Algerian. The Algerian authorities say 1.5 million were killed.
Tebboune’s office said in October more than 5.6 million Algerians were killed during the colonial period.
Algerian human rights groups have urged Macron not to overlook abuses by the government that came to power after longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in 2019.