Trial opens on Algeria’s dirty war charges

Trial opens on Algeria’s dirty war charges

PARIS, Jul 01, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX)

A trial opened Monday in which the author of a sensational book on Algeria’s civil war is accused of dishonoring the country’s military and its former defense minister.

The retired minister, Gen. Khaled Nezzar, has pressed charges against former Algerian army officer Habib Souaidia, who sparked furor in France and Algeria last year with his book, « The Dirty War. »

In it, Souaidia accuses Nezzar of presiding over scores of tortures, killings and disappearances by Algeria’s military during the last decade’s clashes with Islamist guerrillas.

Monday’s trial, however, doesn’t directly relate to the book — but to similar accusations made by Souaidia on French television.

« It’s all part of a vast operation of destabilization, » Nezzar’s lawyer, Jean-Rene Farthouat, said in a telephone interview Monday.

Farthouat suggested Souaidia had been « manipulated » by those wanting to discredit Nezzar and the Algerian government.

« I’m not saying the Algerian government did nothing wrong, or that it did wrong, » the lawyer added. « I’m representing General Nezzar — not the Algerian government. Mr. Nezzar stepped down from his post in 1994, yet he’s accused of being responsible for everything that happened in Algeria. »

Last year, several Algerians living in exile in France pressed charges against Nezzar while the general was visiting Paris. They, too, blame Nezzar for being responsible for torture while he was Algerian defense minister, between 1990 and 1993. Nezzar left France abruptly.

According to Amnesty International, one of the plaintiffs has since dropped his case — but not before his son was arrested in Algeria, on charges of having links with an armed group.

Another Algerian, human rights lawyer Rachid Mesli, was expected to appear as a defense witness in this week’s trial, Amnesty International said. The Algerian government has issued an international arrest warrant against Mesli for alleged terrorist ties, Amnesty International said in a statement.

Such examples — along with the current trial against Souaidia — appears to be part of a « pattern » by the Algerian government to silence its critics, said Francis Perrin, president of Amnesty International in France.

« Amnesty is not in a position to be able to confirm all the allegations in the book by Mr. Habib Souaidia, » Perrin said in an interview with United Press International.

« But we are very disturbed by recent and not so recent developments in Algeria concerning either human rights defenders, or people who try to get the truth about vast disappearances, or about the so called dirty war between the armed forces and the armed Islamist guerrillas. »

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika vowed to look into the accusations against the military, shortly after his election in 1999. But some analysts say Bouteflika has a narrow margin of maneuver against a shadowy group of military, business and tribal interests Algerians dub « Le Pouvoir, » or the power.

Nezzar’s lawyer, Farthouat, said the general would be present throughout the trial, which is expected to last a week.

By ELIZABETH BRYANT, United Press International