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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK

World: Africa

France admits Algerian campaign was 'war'

The war was one of the most bloody colonial struggles ever

France is re-writing one of the most painful periods of its history by recognising that its colonial conflict in Algeria was, in fact, a "war".

For 37 years it was referred to officially as a "law and order maintenance operation" despite the fact that up to one million people were killed.

All 117 members of the French National Assembly in Paris backed a bill setting the record straight on Algeria, which will now go before the Senate.

The move marks a victory for veterans' associations which for years have been trying to get successive governments to describe the Algerian conflict as a "war".

[ image: Ahmed Ben Bella became Algeria's first president]
Ahmed Ben Bella became Algeria's first president
The Secretary of State for War Veterans, Jean-Pierre Masseret, welcomed the bill but said it was more of a moral acknowledgement and would not result in additional benefits for former soldiers.

More than 1.5m French men are registered as war veterans from the fighting in North Africa.

The war has always been a controversial topic in France and for many years it was deemed too traumatic a subject for public debate.

Bloody conflict

From the time that French occupation began in about 1830, Algeria was regarded as part of France.

By the end of the Second World War, in 1945, more than one million French settlers or "colons" lived in Algeria, owning more than 40% of cultivable land.

The war broke out in 1954 pitting the Algerian liberation movement - the FLN - against half of the entire French army.

It was to be one of the most bloody and destructive colonial struggles ever.

The fighting was prolonged by the formation of the OAS, a secret army organised by dissident French soldiers and the "pied-noir" Algerians of French descent.

The OAS fought a campaign of terror which provided an excuse for the French army to remain in Algeria.

Peace negotiations were started in 1961 and Algeria finally became independent in 1962 with Ben Bella as its first president.

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