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Sunday, August 15, 1999 Published at 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK


World: Middle East

Violence flares in Algeria

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in recent years

An armed group has killed 29 people in the Bechar region in the west of Algeria, security forces say.


BBC's Barbara Plett: The victims were not identified
It is the worst single attack on civilians since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected four months ago.

Security officials blamed Islamic extremists for the killings in the village of Beni Ounif, saying the throats of the victims had been cut.


[ image: President Bouteflika has been working to restore peace]
President Bouteflika has been working to restore peace
Security forces and rescue workers have been rushed to the area.

Hospital sources said the death toll could be as high as 40, but there has been no independent confirmation of that figure.

No-one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The violence has triggered fears that there could be a return to the regular, large-scale massacres carried out between 1995 to 1997.

Peace deal begets violence

President Bouteflika is seeking to end the bloodshed that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the last seven years.


[ image:  ]
The attack in Bechar comes on the eve of a campaign for a national referendum on a peace accord.

The deal was signed by President Boutaflika and the main rebel Islamic Salvation Army, or AIS, in June.

Since then dozens of people have been killed by two radical factions opposed to the agreement.

Under the peace deal the AIS ended its war against the state and agreed to help the government fight other, more extreme rebel groups.


Algerian poliktical analyst Saad Djabber examines the causes of the renewed violence.
In return the president pardoned thousands of Muslim militant prisoners who had not committed violent crimes and offered a partial amnesty to rebels still at large.

An Islamist insurgency erupted in 1992 after the military authorities cancelled elections that the main Islamist party, the National Islamic Front, was poised to win.



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