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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 11:36 GMT
Gendarme sentenced over Berber death
Riot police in Tizi Ouzou
Berbers see themselves as a persecuted minority
An Algerian military court has sentenced a paramilitary gendarme to two years in prison for the death of a young Berber in police custody near Tizi Ouzou in April 2001.

The BBC's Mohamed Arezki Himeur in Algiers says that relatives of the victim, Massinissa Guermah, and the Algerian press have condemned the judgement as a "parody of justice" and complained about the secrecy surrounding the whole case.


They have just killed my son for a second time

Khaled Guermah
They wanted the gendarme, along with the dozen others allegedly involved in Mr Guermah's death, to be tried by a civilian court.

The death of Mr Guermah, whose body was riddled with bullets, sparked riots in the Kabylie region in which more than 100 people were killed.

The gendarme is reported to have served most of his time in jail and is expected to be free in five months' time.

'Accident'

The gendarme, Merabet Mestari, was convicted of involuntary homicide and involuntary injury with a firearm.

At the time of Mr Guermah's death, the security forces had spoken of an accident.

The gendarme, whose trial lasted 15 minutes, was sentenced on 29 October in the garrison town of Blida, 50km south of Algiers.

The Algerian daily, El Watan, reports that the trial took place in an open court, but that the media had not been informed of it, contrary to promises made by the army and the national gendarmerie.

Tribal leaders in Kabylie have condemned the court's verdict as "very lenient" and rejected the "form and substance" of the military trial, according to the French news agency AFP.

"They have just killed my son for a second time," said Mr Guermah's father, Khaled.

Our correspondent says that it is not known whether the dozen other gendarmes reportedly involved in Mr Guermah's death have been arrested or will be tried.

The Berbers, who have their own language and make up at least a fifth of Algeria's population, have been demanding greater rights from the central government.

Mr Bouteflika has vowed to restore peace to this country of about 30 million which has seen more than 100,000 people killed in fighting with Islamic militants since 1992.

See also:

15 Oct 02 | Africa
10 Oct 02 | Africa
09 Oct 02 | Media reports
31 May 02 | Middle East
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05 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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