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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 17:34 GMT
Algerians forget fighting to go skiing
Chrea
Snow has heralded the return of skiers after 10 years

By 1000 the ski slopes are already full to bursting point.

Adults and children whiz through the snow, whooping with delight.

It has been 10 long years since my wife and I have set foot in Chrea

Ali
Some on skis, others on sledges, many tumbling into the freezing snow.

Just beyond the slopes, children bombard each other with snow balls, casting them high into the blue sky.

Others make snowmen.

For the past fortnight, the Chrea resort, just 60km south of Algiers, has been packed.

Happy times

People come from all over the country - from the capital, from towns and villages. The resort looks like it has been covered in a white cloak.

The snow is very thick, lying about 80 cm deep.

On the high hilltop people sell hot doughnuts, tea and coffee.

"Trade is flourishing" one seller told me. "When people are cold, they love to have something hot in their stomach."

He is selling doughnuts, and tea which he makes by the road.

Together with his friends he also makes a few extra pennies by helping cars stuck in the snow.

This is the first time Chrea has been full in a decade.

Rebel base

The resort has been almost deserted since 1992 due to military insecurity.

Ali, a 65-year-old resident of Algiers, told me: "It has been 10 long years since my wife and I have set foot in Chrea. Can you imagine how happy we are to return? We have spent so many unforgettable times here with our friends".

Relatives
More than 100,000 have died during the 10 year conflict
His wife, Malika, said things "have changed so much" as she glanced towards the snow covered slopes with tears in her eyes.

And things have changed.

The chalets, hotels and restaurants have been abandoned - their roofs have collapsed, doors and windows smashed.

Out of more than 3,000 inhabitants of Chrea at the end of the 1980s, more than half have fled.

For nearly 10 years Chrea lost its tourists. It became the fiefdom of the Armed Islamic Group or GIA.

It was from this base that the GIA chief launched attacks against security forces and carried out massacres of civilians all over.

The armed groups have been chased out of Chrea - security forces now control the land.

They have built barracks and military observation posts on the hillsides all around.

The windy road which leads from the regional capital Blida to the summit of Chrea is closely guarded.

Soldiers are stationed at every corner.

The biggest threat now is the drive up or down to Chrea - as most cars do not have snow chains - and can easily slide across the ice.


Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

Background
See also:

23 Nov 02 | Africa
09 Jan 03 | Africa
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