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Wednesday, January 7, 1998 Published at 21:51 GMT


Algeria denies blame for massacres
image: [ Thousands have fled the massacres in western Algeria ]
Thousands have fled the massacres in western Algeria

Amid reports of further massacres of civilians in northwest Algeria, the military-backed authorities have angrily rejected suggestions that the security forces are involved.

In a BBC interview, the Algerian ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Baali, said the security forces were doing their best to deal with an horrendous situation.

[ image: Troops accused of complicity in killings]
Troops accused of complicity in killings
He insisted they could not protect every remote village in such a large country.

The authorities blame Islamic extremists for the massacres. But human rights groups say government troops are also implicated.

More carnage

The denial came as more horrifying massacres were reported in the northwest of the country and near the capital, Algiers.

The security forces said 62 people died in three new attacks in the western province of Relizane.

Algerian state-run radio, quoting the security services, said 29 people died and 27 were wounded on Tuesday night in the latest attack in Relizane.

Another 12 were killed and 12 wounded on Monday night in Kalaat Ouled Bounif hamlet, while 21 were slaughtered and nine wounded the same night in Ihdjaidia village.

The attacks followed a series of massacres over the weekend. In the worst attack, at least 150 people were beheaded, mutilated or burned in a mountain encampment, near Had Chekala in the Relizane region.

A newspaper close to the security sources, Le Matin, said as many as 300 people may have been killed in this single attack on Sunday night.

Many of the victims were beheaded, mutilated or burned. One account said the severed head of a donkey was placed on the decapitated body of a murdered peasant.

One newspaper, La Tribune, said another massacre at hamlets in the Ramka region "was believed to have taken place and resulted in about 100 victims".

It quoted witnesses saying people were hacked to death and decapitated. They spoke of villagers being burned alive in their homes and of pregnant women being disembowelled.

[ image: Villagers are arming themselves for protection]
Villagers are arming themselves for protection
Most of the recent atrocities have taken place in the rugged mountains of western Algeria, leading many to flee the area.

The newspapers also reported at least 26 other people killed in two attacks much closer to the capital, Algiers.

Many hundreds of people have been butchered since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, in the worst period of carnage since the military-backed government took power six years ago.

The continuing carnage has led to widespread international concern and mounting calls for an outside investigation.

The European Union has again urged the Algerian authorities to accept offers of help from abroad, insisting this was not an attempt to meddle in its affairs.

Algeria has repeated rejected calls for any international inquiry into the massacres.

It says this would merely give credence to the idea that the Islamist extremists were not the only ones involved.

However, in Washington, the State Department said the Algerian Government had accepted in principle the idea of a visit by a UN envoy.

Six years of violence

Between 60,000 and 80,000 people have been killed since the conflict started six years ago when the army cancelled elections to prevent a massive victory by an Islamist party.

The party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was subsequently outlawed and some of its more radical supporters took up arms.

[ image: FIS leaders like Abassi Madani say they do not kill civilians]
FIS leaders like Abassi Madani say they do not kill civilians
FIS leaders insist their armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), does not kill civilians. It blames another faction, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) for the massacres.

Very little is known about the GIA except that it espouses extremist interpretations of Islam which allow it to justify the most atrocious acts of violence.

FIS leaders say the GIA is manipulated by elements of the security forces who reject any reconciliation between it and the state. The government denies the allegations.

The AIS is currently observing a ceasefire negotiated last summer with the Algerian army.

There is some speculation that the latest wave of attacks by the GIA in western Algeria may have targeted villages friendly to the AIS as a means of punishing them and shattering the ceasefire.

Previously the GIA had been active mostly in the centre around Algiers. But it seems to have shifted its operation west in order to flee increased pressure from the security forces.


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