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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 05:40 GMT 06:40 UK

World: Middle East

Algerian rebels lay down arms

Violence flared after the military scrapped the 1992 polls

Algeria's Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) rebels have announced they will renounce their guerrilla struggle against the government.

Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir: "How much practical difference it makes remains to be seen."
The AIS, the armed wing of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), is one of the main rebel movements that has been fighting the government for seven years.

A statement from rebel leader Madani Mezrag said: "The AIS has decided to abandon definitively its armed activities against the authorities." The statement was read on state-run television on Sunday.

The AIS also called on all its members who have not yet laid down arms to do so.

In response to the statement, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika instructed his prime minister to prepare a law which it is believed will include an amnesty for rebels who have renounced violence.

Violent past

The Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win elections in 1992.

Violence which has since claimed up to 100,000 lives broke out when the elections were cancelled by the military.

The AIS has observed a unilateral ceasefire since October 1997.

The more radical rebel movement, the GIA or Armed Islamic Group, has dismissed the AIS ceasefire as a sellout.

New killings

In the latest violence, 19 people were killed and another four wounded in a raid in a village in Mascara region, 350km south-west of the capital, Algiers.

The massacre on Saturday morning was the worst since President Bouteflika's election on 15 April.

The president has called for Islamic militants to rejoin mainstream society. But an Algerian security source said an amnesty would not cover those with blood on their hands.

An FIS representative in London, Jafar al-Hawari, accused the GIA of feeding off the crisis in Algeria. He predicted that agreement between "the main players" would bring an end to violence nearer.

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