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Friday, March 26, 1999 Published at 16:16 GMT

World: Middle East

Egyptian radicals declare truce

Nearly 60 tourists were killed in the Luxor massacre

By Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir

The largest militant Islamic group in Egypt, Jamaa Islamiyya, has announced a complete halt to all armed operations inside and outside the country.

The group - which is believed to have been responsible for the massacre of nearly 60 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at Luxor in November 1997 - said it was taking the step in response to an appeal from its imprisoned leaders.

More than 1,000 Egyptians have been killed in the violent campaign Jamaa Islamiyya launched against the authorities in 1992.

The announcement formalises an undeclared truce of recent months, during which violent actions by the Islamic militants have dwindled to a few sporadic incidents in pockets of southern Egypt.

It also signals that a rift between internal and external representatives of the group has been overcome.

Split within the movement

Even before the Luxor massacre, the radical Islamic movement was clearly split over tactics.

A group of its so-called historic leaders serving prison sentences in Egypt had already issued a ceasefire call in July of that year.

The massacre may well have been ordered by dissident Jamaa Islamiyya leaders outside the country, who were determined to show that the struggle would go on.

But the Luxor atrocity inflicted huge damage on the Egyptian tourist industry and the livelihoods of many ordinary people, destroying any sympathy they may have had for the radicals.

Government tactics working

That message seems to have got through to the divided leadership in exile, which is reported to have come together in endorsing the announcement.

Given the almost negligible level of activity anyway, it might not make much practical difference.

But it will increase the conviction of the Egyptian authorities that they are on the right track, ruthlessly clamping down on Islamic radicalism wherever it shows itself and vigorously prosecuting its adherents.

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