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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 19:47 GMT
Militants 'storm Algerian barracks'
At least 15 pro-government militiamen have been killed by suspected Islamic militants in the north of Algeria, according to local newspaper reports.

About 20 rebels attacked an army barracks at Oum Toub - in Skikda province 510 kilometres (320 miles) east of Algiers - using grenades, automatic weapons and homemade mortar launchers to force their way into the camp.

Before fleeing, the attackers stole dozens of weapons and set fire to part of the barracks, according to newspapers Le Matin and Liberte.

Although some 30 guards were able to escape, 12 men died in the attack.

Relatives weep after yet more killings in Algeria
120,000 people are believed to have died so far in the civil war
In a separate incident, three civilians were killed by a group of armed men in the village of Si Mustapha, 50km east of Algiers.

The three community guards were ambushed when they turned into an alleyway, Le Matin reported.

The victims were part of the civilian militia, known as the "patriots", who are a favourite target of the militants.

Election tension

The attacks come in the run-up to parliamentary elections in May, which were announced by President Adbelaziz Bouteflika last week.

Both the guerrillas and government forces are expected to intensify their operations against each other as the elections draw near.

Algeria has been locked in a cycle of violence since 1992, when the then army-backed authorities cancelled an election which radical Islamists were expected to win.

An estimated 120,000 people are believed to have died since the civil war began - some 40 people this month alone.

See also:

10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Six killed after Algeria rebel's death
10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Algeria puts dead militant on show
09 Feb 02 | Middle East
Antar Zouabri: A violent legacy
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
Algeria's decade of bloody conflict
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Algeria tackles Islamic militants
13 Jan 00 | Middle East
Algeria: Country profile
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