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Friday, July 31, 1998 Published at 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK

World: Middle East

UN queries Algerian massacres

Tens of thousands of Algerians have lost loved ones

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on Algeria to investigate the alleged involvement of its security forces in massacres, and to punish them if necessary.

The call coincides with a visit by a UN team trying to gather information about violence which has claimed more than 70,000 lives in the last six years.

Many of the killings have been blamed on extremist Islamic groups.

[ image: The security forces: suspected of colluding in some killings]
The security forces: suspected of colluding in some killings
The UN committee, made up of 18 international lawyers, also expressed concern about the powers which have been given to state-sponsored village militias.

The team, led by Portugal's former president Mario Soares, has met senior officials, prisoners and ordinary people and has visited the scenes of massacres near the capital and in the western province of Tlemcen.

Allegations of collusion

The Algerian government recently submitted a report on its human rights record which was two years late.

The UN committee said the report failed to address several questions about Algeria's human rights crisis.

The panel looked closely at several recent massacres of civilians which the government in Algiers has blamed on armed fundamentalists.

It pointed out some of the massacres had taken place close to army barracks and said it was natural to suspect the rebels had colluded with the security forces.

The government in Algiers is urged to:

  • Establish independent inquiries into all the massacres and punish any member of the security forces found to be involved.

  • Set up a register of all those who have disappeared during the six-year conflict and help trace them.

    Human rights groups, who have long argued the international community is not taking the situation in Algeria seriously, have welcomed the recommendations.

    Promise to look at recommendations

    The Algerian ambassador to the UN said his government would study the UN recommendations.

    The report came as four civilians were reported killed in a raid by fundamentalist rebels on a village in western Algeria.

    The security forces said in a statement that nine Muslim rebels stormed Makalou in Tiaret province, 155 miles (250 km) west of Algiers, slashing the throats of four people, two of them elderly men.

    The attackers kidnapped a woman but fled after pro-government militiamen and troops intervened.

    Algeria has been racked by violence since 1992 when the authorities cancelled a general election in which the Islamic opposition had taken a commanding lead.

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