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Caroline Hawley reports from Cairo
AIS's decision to disband is being presented by the authorities as a political victory
 real 28k

Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 21:54 GMT
Algerian rebel group disbands

President Bouteflika President Bouteflika has staked his presidency on ending the bloodshed


The armed wing of Algeria's biggest opposition group has dissolved itself after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced a blanket amnesty for its fighters, Algerian state-run television reported.

The station interrupted its normal transmissions to read a statement, which it said had been signed by the head of the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), Madani Mezrag.

The statement said: "Based on the decree of amnesty announced on Tuesday and the state commitments, the Islamic Salvation Army decided to dissolve its organisation, effective from the date of issue of this statement."


Algeria funeral Tens of thousands have died in the violence

The AIS is the armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which was banned in 1992. It is thought to consist of 800-3,000 fighters.

It has been observing a truce since October 1997.

Pardon announced

Earlier, a statement from the president's office said the pardon, which followed several weeks of talks between the authorities and the AIS, resulted from the group's decision to cease hostilities.

The decree, coming exactly eight years since the army coup which led to the insurgency, opens the way for a "complete and total reintegration" of AIS members into Algerian society, the statement said.

A previously-announced partial amnesty, due to expire this week, was not widely taken up because it did not apply to people involved in murder, rape or planting bombs.

Mr Bouteflika, who has staked his presidency on ending eight years of bloodshed that has claimed up to 100,000 lives, has said he will deal mercilessly with militants who fail to surrender under the amnesty law.

Co-operation

Another group, the hardline Armed Islamic Group (GIA), has vowed to continue its attacks.

Observers say the amnesty offer appears to open the way for AIS to work with the security forces to hunt recalcitrant Islamic extremists.

There has been media speculation that AIS members would be placed in special camps near army barracks.

The FIS created the AIS in 1993 to distinguish its fighters from the GIA, which has been accused of numerous massacres of civilians during the civil war.

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