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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 18:25 GMT
Analysis: Algeria's troubled truce
Algeria has suffered eight years of bloody conflict

By North Africa correspondent Heba Saleh

The leader of Algeria's outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), Sheikh Abassi Madani, has warned his party's armed militants against what he described as a "shameful surrender" to the authorities.

Sheikh Abassi is under house arrest but his remarks came in a letter to the leader of an armed group, Ali Benhadjar, that was forwarded to news organisations outside the country.

The Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has excluded the return of the FIS to political life. He has offered a partial amnesty to militants who lay down their arms before 13 January, but no political concessions.

Abassi Madani Sheikh Abassi has withdrawn his support for the truce
Sheikh Abassi's letter expresses the frustration of the political leaders of the FIS at what they say is the failure of the authorities to fulfil their promises.

In it, Sheikh Abassi says President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised a political solution to the conflict with the Islamists but went back on his word opting for security measures only.

He warns armed militants against what he describes as a "shameful surrender" to the authorities, though he does not urge them to resume armed activities.

Sheikh Abassi was not released from house arrest in Algiers even though he wrote a letter to Mr Bouteflika in June endorsing the decision by the FIS's armed wing to put itself under the authority of the state.

Sheikh Abassi now says that letter should not be used as a pretext by those who want to surrender.

Conditional support

He says his support for the truce was conditional on making progress towards a reconciliation within the context of an overall political solution which includes the FIS.

That solution, however, has not materialised and President Bouteflika has excluded the early release of FIS leaders and said the party could never come back into politics in any shape or form.

Bouteflika is trying to repair Algeria's battered image
Islamic Salvation Army fighters are now based in three camps in the east, west and centre of the country under the supervision of the Algerian army.

It is reliably reported that they are still armed, and it remains unclear what plans the authorities have for them.

It seems, however, that there are obstacles holding up whatever process they had agreed with the Algerian army.

Exiled FIS leaders say the problem is that the authorities have reneged on promises to allow the party to resume political activities. For their part, the authorities maintain total silence on the issue.

Nonetheless, Sheikh Abassi's letter could make it more difficult for the authorities to reach a final deal with them.

Algeria's battered image

The letter is yet another setback for President Bouteflika's efforts to project an image of a strong leader guiding his country out of a traumatic decade.

This image has received a battering in recent weeks with continuing rumours about the president's difficulties with the army which is reportedly blocking his nominations for a new government.

More recently, another blow was the assassination of Abdelkader Hachani, the third man in the Front --a killing blamed by his colleagues on hardliners in the regime opposed to a settlement with the Islamists.

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See also:
28 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Algeria hit by new massacres
23 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Thousands attend Hachani funeral
16 Sep 99 |  Africa
Analysis: A people tired of conflict
25 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Algeria's new era of reconciliation

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