Tens of thousands have died in the civil war

Algerian author sued over war claims

Tens of thousands have died in the civil war

By James Coomarasamy , BBC correspondent in Paris, 1 July, 2002

Former Algerian Defence Minister General Khaled Nezzer is hoping to restore the image of his country’s armed forces in a Paris court this week.

General Nezzer has brought a case of defamation against Habib Souaidia, an ex-army officer whose book, The Dirty War 1992 – 2000, contains allegations about the conduct of Algerian troops in their fight against Islamic militants.

General Nezzar was questioned by French police over torture claims

The author, who used to be a sub-lieutenant in the Algerian army, said that soldiers disguised as rebels had massacred civilians, and frequently tortured rebels to death.

He said he had personally witnessed about 100 such killings.

Human rights groups have long suspected the Algerian army was implicated in the massacres, but the book’s account is unprecedented first hand evidence.

Bloody conflict

General Nezzer was behind the cancellation of Algeria’s 1992 election, which an Islamic fundamentalist party looked set to win.

This was the event that sparked off the decade-long civil conflict, which has seen the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Algeria.

General Nezzer has brought the defamation case not against the book itself but against similar allegations made by the author on a French television show.

The general has said he wants to set the record straight.

He has been personally accused of torture by Algerians living in France and was questioned by French police earlier this year.


Author blasts Algerian army at start of French defamation case

by Raphael Hermano

PARIS, July 1 (AFP) – A former Algerian army officer on Monday stood by his accusations linking the country’s military to mass killings and torture, as a defamation suit brought against him by an ex-defense minister opened here.

« History will catch up with you in your grave, » former sub-lieutenant Habib Souaidia, author of the book, « The Dirty War: 1992-2000 », spat at General Khaled Nezzar.

Nezzar, a former defense minister and the main figure behind the cancellation of Algeria’s elections in January 1992, has sued Souaidia for defamation in a bid to salvage the honor of the country’s army.

In his book, Souaidia made explosive allegations about the army’s attempts to quell Islamic militants, who launched a civil war after the cancellation of the general election a Muslim fundamentalist party was set to win.

The former officer claimed Algerian troops massacred civilians while disguised as rebels, shot suspects dead in cold blood and tortured rebels to death during the war against Islamic militants in the 1990s.

The shocking allegations in the book — which has sold some 70,000 copies in France — sparked calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the former military regime in Algeria.

Nezzar is not directly challenging the book, but comments Souaidia made on France’s channel 5 television.

During the broadcast in question, he repeated his claims that « the generals… killed thousands of people. »

The 33-year-old Souaidia, who seemed somewhat confused at times during his testimony, told the court he had seen troops douse a 15-year-old boy in gasoline and burn him alive.

« What human being could do such a thing? » he said.

Souaidia — who left Algeria two years ago and now lives in France as a political refugee — also said he was forced to escort soldiers disguised as Islamic militants into a village, where they massacred 12 civilians.

Nezzar, who has flatly denied the claims, retorted: « Beyond the defamatory comments made about me personally, it’s really an entire people, a government and its army… that the slanderers have disgraced. »

Souaidia’s attorneys took advantage of Nezzar’s presence in Paris to announce that nine Algerians had filed complaints last week against him for torture and inhumane treatment.

Previous similar complaints filed against the general in the French court system have been dropped.

One of Nezzar’s lawyers, Jean-Rene Farthouat, responded by deeming the legal action nothing but « new posturing » by the general’s opponents.

« This confirms my notion that all this is part of a set-up, » he told AFP.

The defamation trial is set to wrap up on Friday.