Algerian army role in atrocities debated at French courtroom
Jul 4, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX)
A Paris courtroom has become a public stage for charges that the Algerian army had a role in atrocities and massacres during this nation’s Islamic insurgency.
Former Algerian Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar, 66, has sued a former special forces officer, Habib Souaidia , author of the best-selling book « The Dirty War, » for slander for remarks made during a May 2001 TV interview.
Souaidia called Nezzar a coward in the interview and held him and other generals responsible for the continuing violence in the former French colony, AP reported.
« I am here to defend my honor and … the honor of the Algerian army, » Nezzar told the court Monday.
He headed the Algerian armed forces when it was given the leading role in fighting terrorism in the country. In 1992, the Interior Ministry and later the military began to engage in the systematic use of torture against persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of the Islamist movement.
Secrecy has shrouded the decade-long conflict between security forces and Islamic extremists, and even the death toll is uncertain. A rough estimate of the dead is 120,000.
Questions about whether security forces have had a role began surfacing after two 1997 massacres, in Rais and Bentalha south of Algiers, carried out near army barracks not far from the heaviest concentration of military personnel in the country.
Then came Souaidia, 33, who claimed in his book that he witnessed torture, atrocities and massacres while serving at the head of a special forces unit. He and some others have been claiming the military has perpetuated a climate of fear to retain its power.
Algerian authorities dismiss Souaidia as a criminal. He spent four years in a military prison for theft before fleeing to France, where he has applied for political refugee status. « One day history will catch up with you in your grave, » Souaidia said with a shaking voice Monday, pointing at Nezzar.
He claimed he was present when soldiers burned alive a 15-year-old, tied up and naked, at a garbage dump outside Algiers.
« The Algerian army is not an army of barbarians, » Nezzar said from the stand. (Albawaba.com)
By Al-Bawaba Reporters