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Western Press Review: Algerian Slaughter, Suspicion, Intransigence Mount

Prague, 7 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The world looks on with horror and frustration this week as Algerian extremists continue massacres of apolitical villagers in Algeria. Western press analysis and commentary express outrage, point accusingly at the government as well as extremist rebels, and call for international intervention, while recognizing that other nations have few options and little influence.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: History has not treated Algeria kindly

In today's Suddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Rudolph Chimelli says the massacres result from rivalry between Islamist groups. He writes: "Algeria is the scene of almost daily horror on a scale of bestiality that is scarcely describable. What is it that makes this Mediterranean state so different from others?" he says: "History has not treated Algeria kindly. But the era in which the French colonial power forced through the pacification of its territory with methods that cost no less lives than the latest massacres, lies far back in the past.

"Much closer to the present was the War of Liberation (1954-62), waged on the Algerian side by the National Liberation Front (FLN), the forerunner of today's government and military structures, with more brutality on dissident compatriots than towards France. Those who did not join the uprising, and those who cooperated with the French, counted as traitors who the FLN did not regard as worth convincing, just annihilating."

TIMES: The flow of oil, and blood, appears likely to continue unchecked

Writing from Paris today in The Times of London, correspondent Ben MacIntyre analyzes the pressures and impotence that France copes with in dealings with its former colony. MacIntyre says: "Television images of horribly injured survivors from the latest massacres have galvanized the media and public opinion in France, bringing pressure on the Government to intervene more forcibly in its former colony, despite a long tradition of standing back from the mounting violence."

The analysis says: "Some 90 percent of Algeria's oil is exported to Western Europe, with Italy the principal buyer followed by France and Germany. Algeria relies on oil and gas exports for most of its foreign currency, but there is little sign, in the intensely complex and rapidly deteriorating situation, that immediate economic pressure will be brought to bear on the Algerian government. While diplomatic pressure is building on Algiers, therefore, the flow of oil, and blood, appears likely to continue unchecked."

DIE WELT: The Algerian press is increasingly dismissive of the army's ability to ensure public safety

The Algerian armed forces could do much more to protect Algerian citizenry from the butchery, commentators Jochen Hehn and A.B. Lahouri write in today's editions of the German newspaper Die Welt. The writers say; "The Algerian press is increasingly dismissive of the army's ability to ensure public safety. Yet the armed forces have always demonstrated an ability to do so when ordered to guarantee law and order in connection with, say, elections. Tens of thousands of troops and police have been sent in on such occasions to make international observers sent to Algiers feel the situation is one of peace and quiet.

"Only 20 per cent of the armed forces, with an active strength of 120,000 men, are deployed to actively combat terrorist gangs. A majority of the forces is entrusted with ensuring the personal safety of members of the government, senior officers and their families. "Another task which enjoys priority is that of protecting the country's oil refineries, oil and natural gas fields and petrochemical installations. So there is no real prospect of the troops effectively fighting Algeria's widely dispersed Islamic terrorists, who operate in small groups and are highly mobile."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The international community appears to have been stung into action

The defense correspondent of The Daily Telegraph in London, Tim Butcher, writes today, in a news analysis, of international reaction to the Algerian events, citing only condemnatory rhetoric. He says: "The scale and brutality of the killings prompted condemnation from the international community and led to suggestions of diplomatic involvement by the EU."

Butcher writes: "The international community appears to have been stung into action by the wave of bloody murders that have marked the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began last week."

WASHINGTON POST: It was unclear what role Western powers could play in Algeria

In an analysis today in The Washington Post, John Lancaster concurs. He writes: "The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is turning out to be one of the bloodiest chapters ever in Algeria's six-year Islamic insurgency, with reports (yesterday) that more than 300 people may have died in another round of massacres during the last several days."

He writes: "The surge in killing -- including burning alive several hundred people, if (the) reports are correct -- has prompted growing calls in Western capitals for an international role in ending the crisis. It was unclear, however, what role if any Western powers could play in Algeria, given the government's steadfast refusal to permit any outside involvement in what it regards as a domestic matter. Algerian authorities repeatedly have said they are winning the war on militants of the Armed Islamic Group, which seeks to overthrow the secular, military-backed regime and replace it with a pure Islamic state."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: There have been persistent questions by human-rights groups

John Daniszewski, writing today in a Los Angeles Times news analysis, discusses international concerns, and suspicions that the Algerian government is negligent, or even in some way complicit. He says: "Across the Islamic world, religious leaders and ordinary citizens have condemned its brutal tactics -- including gang rape, murder of pregnant women and children, mutilation of corpses and even the slaughter of worshipers gathered at prayer -- as the antithesis of the religion."

Daniszewski writes: "There have been persistent questions by human-rights groups, including the London-based Amnesty International, as to whether parts of the government security services may have been negligent or even had complicity in allowing massacres to occur, sometimes near to army barracks. But so far any suggestion of an international role has been roundly denounced by the Algerian government as an insult and as an infringement of its sovereignty."

NEW YORK TIMES: European countries including France have little leverage over Algeria

The New York Times' Craig R. Whitney in Paris emphasizes international impotence in a news analysis today, writing: "France and its European Union partners struggled Tuesday with Algerian government resistance to any attempt to bring international pressure to bear to stop the killings." Whitney says: "As the European colonial power that ruled Algeria for more than a century until it wrested independence from Paris in 1962 after a war that cost 10,000 French lives and 100,000 Algerian ones, France is expected by its European allies to take the lead in diplomatic efforts to try to stop the new carnage." He adds: "But there are other considerations for France as well. Today about 5 million Muslims, most from North Africa, live largely relegated to ugly urban development projects surrounding Paris and other French cities, where members of the fundamentalist Armed Islamic Group, thought to be responsible for some of the worst violence in Algeria, recruited disillusioned youths in 1995 and 1996."

Whitney writes: "With European aid and trade credits totaling only $300 million in 1996, European countries including France have little leverage over Algeria. Though U.S. and European oil companies invest heavily in oil operations there, the idea of sending troops to stop terrorism strikes officials in both the United States and Europe as unacceptable."