Letter alleges muder by militia mayor

Letter alleges muder by militia mayor

A letter to an independent human rights’ group has raised hopes of bringing before the courts a militia leader and local politician it alleges is behind abductions and executions.

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Algiers, 25/04/01 – A letter sent to independent Algerian human rights’ group, the LADDH, alleges that Mohamed Fergane, the mayor of Relizane, a town 300 km west of Algiers, is a murderer.

It claims that Fergane, also head of the local anti-Islamist militia, the GLD, popularly known as the Patriots, was behind the murder in early 1996 of Chahloul Salah, a fellow militiamen who had revealed his involvement in atrocities.

The letter was written by Chahloul Salah’s son, El Houari, and runs counter to police investigations that « hurriedly concluded the terrorists committed the murder », says Mohamed Smain, president of the Relizane chapter of the LADDH.

He adds that the letter confirms his own belief based on statements by Fergane’s fellow Patriots who asked not to be named. Relatives of missing people also contend Fergane was behind dozens of abductions and summary executions in the Relizane area between 1994 and 1997.

In March 1998 he was arrested along with other militiamen and charged with abduction and murder.

Even newspapers with few scruples about methods used against Islamic guerrillas expressed migivings about excesses in the name of counterinsurgency. The fiercely anti-Islamist daily Liberté talked of « a reign of terror in Relizane ».

But following implacable pressure from the main coalition party, the RND, Fergane – member of the RND and a prominent local politician – was released within a couple of weeks.

Human rights organisation have tirelessly denounced the sudden halt to proceedings against Fergane, with the Relizane LADDH alleging he enjoyed sound connections.

Mohamed Smain says so well connected was he that he was able dig up a mass grave unhindered and remove the remains of people whose execution he had ordered.

The sheer determination of Smain to prove the existence of mass graves in the Relizane area has earned him endless trouble from the authorities.

Since 1998, Fergane has filed no less than 12 legal actions against him on grounds ranging from defamation to slander and threat. « The courts, » quips Smain, « are strangely conscientous about hearing the cases. »

Two cases are still under investigation. One springs from a newspaper interview in which Smain alleged that on February 3, 2001, Fergane’s men had dug up the remains of people they had executed and buried in a mass grave outside Relizane. On February 23 he was arrested at Oran Airport and only granted conditional release after a magistrate had refused an application for custody.

On May 27, 2000, a few days after Amnesty International’s fact-finding visit to Relizane he was arrested on his way back from filming a mass grave that he alleged had just been dug up.

His camera and film were confiscated and a few days later he was charged with defamation following legal action from Mohamed Fergane.

Smain hopes that Chahloul El Houari’s letter from could at long last lead to the case against Fergane being reopened five years on.

Excerpt from letter
« Mohamed Fergane used to take innocent people to the [local] park to torture them. He then took them off to some unknown destination and killed them. He handed out their money to his militiamen. My father, a Liberation War veteran who joined the Legitimate Defence Groups [GLD] to defend Algeria against terrorism, could not accept such behaviour. It’s thanks to him that the full truth about Mohemed Fergane has come out. He left the GLD and then one day Fergane drove down to see him in his Renault 5. He said everything would be different from now on. My father believed him and got into his car. A few hours later we heard he was dead. »

Yassin Temlali