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World: International Community Speaks Out On Algerian Slaughter

  • Elizabeth Weinstein

Prague, 3 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The international silence surrounding the daily civilian slaughter in Algeria is finally breaking this week as world leaders begin speaking out on the atrocities authorities believe are being committed by the extremist Armed Islamic Group, known as GIA.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel touched off the steady stream of rhetoric last week when he told diplomats at the United Nations General Assembly that "We cannot accept the mass murder of innocents without the world community standing up and reacting."

Since his plea, world leaders like U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson have followed suit. Robinson, who is the former president of Ireland, said that there was a "responsibility in the international community" to speak out.

"One of the things that has been an important experience of the international community is that human rights don't have those kinds of borders," she said at a news conference.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin broke the usually cautious French stance on Algeria when he condemned the radical GIA terrorist group in a television interview Monday night. Jospin said that the fine line between the army-backed government and the Islamic militants made it difficult to understand what exactly was going on in the country.

For the more than 90 Algerian citizens who were murdered this week alone, the lip service from leaders like Jospin and Robinson is too little, too late. In their most recent attack, the GIA rebels are suspected of killing a family of four and nine other civilians Tuesday night in western Algeria. The bodies were found mutilated in the bottom of a unused well. The murders follow the slaughter earlier in the week of villagers in places near Algiers and an attack on a school which killed 11 women teachers in western Algeria.

More than 60,000 people, including children, have died since 1992 when authorities canceled a general election in which radical Islamists had taken the lead. Authorities attribute the killings to Muslim fundamentalists.

The Algerian government has shunned international pleas for a truce, while trying to appear as if it condemns terrorism. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recently offered to mediate talks between the government and the rebels, but Algerian president Liamine Zeroual has repeatedly rejected any interference into its internal affairs.

On Wednesday Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf called for international action to combat terrorism, but he made no mention of the daily massacres in his own country.

"Among the new challenges the international community faces, terrorism is the one which apparently is the most challenging," Attaf said to the U.N. General Assembly.

The 15-member European Union has urged the Algerian government to acknowledge its crisis and accept help from the international community. But Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos said he doesn't think that will happen since the Algerian government has closed itself off from the rest of the world.

For the Algerian citizens who live in constant fear, the international reaction to their plight has not brought any action for their safety.

The French government has said it will not take part in any international initiative on Algeria, even though the United States and Paris are monitoring the crisis. In 1995, when the French government came out in favor of President Zeroual, bomb attacks killed and wounded scores of people in Paris. In 1994 three passengers were killed during a December hijacking of an Air France carrier. GIA claimed responsibility for both incidents.

The Algerian army is trying to keep the killings under control by launching several offensives near Algiers. Press reports this week said that about 15 men have surrendered or been captured Other reports say armed extremists have been falling back after army attacks on the region.

"This offensive will take the time it must," an army officer told an Algerian French-language newspaper. "But we will wipe out these criminals."

Until then, the bloody death toll will keep rising.