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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK

World: Middle East

Algeria: can UN make a difference?

President Liamine Zeroual's government has imposed limits to the UN's mission to Algeria

By North Africa correspondent, Heba Saleh.

A UN delegation is arriving in Algeria to gather information on a situation where more than 70,000 Algerians have been killed in violence between Islamic militants and the state.

But the UN delegation has a very limited mandate.

It will gather information about the situation in Algeria, but it will not investigate the political violence and human rights abuses which have blighted life for millions of Algerians over the past six years.

The Algerian authorities have also made it clear that they are allowing the visit on condition that there is to be no follow-up action of any kind.

Sections of the Algerian opposition, along with human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, have been calling for an international inquiry to establish responsibilty for some of the worst atrocities committed during the conflict.

They are especially concerned about a series of large massacres in which hundreds of villagers were slaughtered.

Sometimes the killings took place very close to military barracks, but the army did not intervene.

Human rights campaigners say they fear the UN mission may end up as no more than a public relations exercise for the Algerian government.

They would have preferred a delegation composed of trained UN investigators rather than eminent politicians.

But the Algerian authorities have turned down calls from the European Union to allow such a visit.

They say there is no human rights crisis in their country, only a problem with terrorism.

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