Ex-Algerian minister sues author

Ex-Algerian minister sues author

AP, July 1, 2002

PARIS, France (AP) — A former Algerian defence minister is suing a ex-army officer and best-selling author for defamation for linking him to atrocities in Algeria’s war on Islamic extremists.

Retired General Khaled Nezzar has sued Habib Souaidia for remarks made in a French television interview.

The trial, expected to last a week, could provide a forum for those who allege the Algerian army stood by during massacres or even participated in them — a question Algerian authorities have refused to address.

Nezzar was himself the subject of a legal complaint in France filed by a group of Algerians, alleging torture by Algerian security forces under his command.

Nezzar left France in April 2001 with the help of the Foreign Ministry, and the investigation was dropped.

Nezzar, defence minister from 1990-1993, was a central figure in the army’s decision to cancel January 1992 legislative elections to stop a Muslim fundamentalist party from winning.

He was widely considered the leader of the five-man High State Committee that assumed power for two years after the aborted vote.

The decision to cancel the elections triggered Islamic insurgency that has continued for the past decade, killing an estimated 120,000 people — insurgents, soldiers and civilians.

Last August, Nezzar announced plans to file a defamation suit against Souaidia for accusing him, during a May 2001 interview on France’s Channel 5, of « being responsible for the assassination of thousands of people. »

Nezzar has described Souaidia as a low-level officer who has been manipulated.

Souaidia served in the special forces leading the war against Islamic extremists.

He has written a book, « The Dirty War, » which reinforced the suspicions of some that Algerian security forces had a role in the massacres of civilians and other atrocities.

International human rights groups and others have long accused security forces of resorting to torture and kidnappings in the battle against Muslim extremists.

Various groups have sought an independent investigation of those charges and the larger allegation that the army actively killed in what is often referred to as Algeria’s « secret war. »

Amnesty International renewed its call last week for Algerian authorities to « take concrete steps to establish the truth. »