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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK

World: Middle East

Algeria on road to referendum

Terrorists are not included in the peace plan

Campaigning has begun in Algeria for a referendum on national reconciliation aimed at ending seven years of violence which has claimed the lives of about 100,000 people.

In next month's vote, Algerians will be asked to approve a peace plan which includes a wide-ranging amnesty for Islamist militants, and reduced prison terms for those serving sentences.

The peace 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.

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.

Bloody weekend

But the launch of the campaign has coincided with spiralling violence.

Five soldiers were killed at a false roadblock near Boumerdes east of the capital, Algiers.

[ image: President Bouteflika has been working to restore peace]
President Bouteflika has been working to restore peace
Eye-witnesses say their assailants were Islamic militants, who seized their weapons and ammunition before fleeing.

On Saturday, suspected Islamist militants carried out the worst single attack on civilians since Mr Bouteflika was elected in April.

Some 29 people were discovered with their throats cut in Beni Ounif village in the western Bechar region.

Analysts say that Mr Bouteflika has been able to make his conciliatory gestures because his arrival on the scene marked the end of an internal conflict within the Algerian military establishment.

Apparently demoralised, and unable to achieve a military victory, the AIS has been observing a truce since 1997 which appears to have been the fruit of lengthy negotiations with the army.

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