en Algeria: Army chief of staff says this is « my last post »
ALGERIA – 02/07/2002 BBC Monitoring Global Newsline – Middle East Political
[Gen Mohamed Lamari, chief of staff of the Algerian People’s National Army, held a news conference with representatives of the national press at the military academy in Cherchell on Tuesday 2 July, as the country prepares itself to mark the 40th anniversary of Independence Day. In this unprecedented move, the general talked about the role of the army and its alleged influence on the political institutions and about the fight against terrorism, corruption and the situation in the Kabylie region. The following is the full text of the news conference as broadcast by Algerian television but it seems to have been slightly edited].
· [Gen Lamari – recording in French] It is true that we are uninitiated in the field of communication. The time has now come for the People’s National Army to communicate. As you are already aware, we have begun to set up communication cells [public relations offices] at the various levels of the command chain. It is these communication officers who will be known by you all and depending on your concerns it will be up to you to approach these officers who will immediately give you an answer if it is available to them, otherwise it will take the time necessary for them to obtain that information before they pass it on to you. What is certain is that we all regard ourselves communication officers, starting with myself.
Public scepticism about national army
I will not go over all the grievances but I would only like to say that all the ills endured by our country generally [seem] to have been blamed on the People’s National Army. [In Arabic] Even about the November [2001 flood] disaster in Bab El Oued [in Algiers], people started to say it is the army’s fault. Just as well they did not go as far as to say that it is this army which joined forces with God alone and brought down the rain on Bab El Oued.
These were tendentious allegations and [in French] if these accusations had come from abroad, from certain circles which are hostile to Algeria, fair enough, but the problem is that they come from within our own ranks, from Algerians who, some out of ignorance, others out of interest and others still out of political calculations, hold the army responsible for everything.
[In Arabic] Some say if you want to be famous in Algeria insult the generals and the army.[In French] they have called us everything, such as thieves and killers; thank God they have not gone as far as to say that this People’s National Army was imported from abroad.
[In French] They only forget that this army is our country’s army; it is made up of our country’s children. [In Arabic] They are our children, your children and Algeria’s children. [In French] They only forget that these generals – and you have the entire army command here, or its overwhelming majority – are the children of our people who only love their people, love their country and defend their country.
This is in a nutshell the reality of our people’s army. It is true that people have talked about a « black cabinet » and God knows what else. I only refer you to what the president of the republic said in one of his interviews when he stressed that the chief of staff of the ANP [People’s National Army] learnt about the government’s constitution like any other citizen. These are not demagogic statements. It is the reality. This is the only reality.
We are a republican army. We have our mission which is clear and well defined. [In Arabic] Let us ask God to help us carry it out. The rest is none of our business. There is an executive and there are institutions which have been established in conformity with the constitution and which are themselves in charge of certain problems. It is up to these [institutions] and only to them to decide.
If it happened in the past that the ANP interfered in the country’s political problems and other issues [when the army cancelled the first round of the 1991 parliamentary elections that the Islamic Salvation Front, FIS, was poised to win], I say yes because at the time the very institutions of the state were failing their mission. We tried to fill the gap for everything. But now, [in Arabic] thanks be to God, the republic has been safeguarded. The institutions of this republic have been safeguarded. The army is dealing with nothing more than its mission as stipulated by the constitution. Nothing more and nothing less.
It is true that we are also taking part in the fight against terrorism. We will do it till the end. But for the rest, it is not for us to be a substitute for other organs of the state.
This is my introduction and if you have any questions which are causing you concern, it will be my pleasure to answer them.
[Unidentified reporter in Arabic] You have said that the army’s mission is to provide security for all the citizens, even if the citizens lived in Bouzegza Mountain, in order to protect them from terrorist violence. We have seen recently the resumption of isolated terrorist operations inside the towns and in the capital Algiers. What do you attribute this to and have the blows which the terrorists were dealt in the mountains by the ANP troops forced these terrorists to change their strategy?
Fight against terrorism
· [Gen Lamari in French] It is true that during the elections, this question was put to me and I said then that the People’s National Army casts its vote before polling day in order to enable its troops to be ready to take part in guaranteeing security for the elections and also to enable the citizens – I believe I mentioned as an example those living in Bouzegza Mountain – to go and perform their electoral duty.
You talk to me about the terrorists which we have seen recently, I will tell you that this does not come to us as a surprise. It is a surprise because it is very easy for two terrorists dressed like you or your brother to stand among a crowd at a bus stop and to open fire once or twice and then flee. This proves that these people are in utter disarray and I can confirm it to you.
On several occasions, I gave figures which nobody dared give in the past. The fact is that during the black years of terrorism we had to deal with 27,000 armed terrorists, and I mean 27,000. Thanks be to God, according to our estimates, there are at the most 700 terrorists left. It is true that they can cause damage because a wounded animal is dangerous but the security services, including the ANP, will rest only when they have eliminated them and when the laws of the republic have been applied to them.
It is true that they [the terrorists] have found it easier because when nothing is happening, and thanks be to God everything is fine, people tend to be less vigilant. This is what has happened.
I would like to elaborate on the subject of terrorism. The fight against terrorism is not limited to the action carried out by the security services, I mean the army, the police, the Gendarmerie and so on. The fight against terrorism is a global fight. It concerns the security services; it concerns our population; it concerns the government and it concerns everyone.
We have always said that the stick on its own will not resolve the problem. We said it in 1992. There are other measures. We have also said that we have defeated terrorism even if it continues to kill our citizens. But terrorism has been defeated. However, fundamentalism is intact. This is the equation. Fundamentalism is still here and fundamentalism is still producing terrorists.
This means that one should not simplify and say that if there is terrorism the police, the gendarmerie and the army will deal with it. It is true that they [these security services] have a very important mission but they are not the only ones concerned. I will give you an example which everyone knows about but which nobody denounces. It is sad to say it but many of our entrepreneurs and our businessmen pay a tithe every month to the terrorists. Some pay 100 million [probably centimes in Algerian dinars], others 200 millions. What is it for? So that they are left alone.
Thank God it is not all of them [the businessmen] but there are some. One forgets that with these 200 millions, with these 500 millions, equipment is being bought and killers are being paid. This is where the problem lies. The notion of « leave me alone and go only to the others » must disappear from our country. We need a total mobilization of everyone.
You have seen, for example in the United States after the 11 September, and you have followed just like me that all the sections of society, from the youngest to the oldest, are mobilized against terrorism. I only hope that there is a similar movement in our country. Thanks be to God, there are [decent] men and women in every section of our society, we only need to be mobilized in order to destroy this microbe.
If you remember, at the beginning of our fight [against terrorism] our main problem, in the years 1991-92, was not even the fight against terrorism, which was relegated to second position, it was to preserve the republican regime and save its institutions. That was the problem.
Remember what some [the FIS leaders] had in store for us: a totalitarian theocratic regime. This is what was in store for Algeria. You heard it as well as I did on television programmes broadcast between the two rounds [of the 1991 elections; referring to statements made on TV by the leaders of the now-banned FIS, especially Ali Belhadj]. What was at stake for the People’s National Army was to safeguard the republican regime and save the state institutions. Thank God, in this area, the mission has been accomplished. It has been accomplished. The republican regime exists and the state institutions are here; good or bad, that is another thing, but they are here, and this requires time.
Consequently, as far as the People’s National Army is concerned, the main challenge is to save the republican regime in Algeria and save the state institutions. The People’s National Army has done it and is not asking for anything in return, not as some wanted to believe. The People’s National Army and its personnel have only carried out their constitutional mission. These senior officers here are not asking for any honour or reward, they are only asking to be respected and not to be insulted and for their honour not to be questioned. This is all we are asking.
I do not know if I have answered your question. Please go ahead.
[Unidentified reporter in Arabic] Your statements have touched on numerous issues but we are astonished that there has been no denial from the Ministry of National Defence –
· [Lamari, interrupting] What?
[Reporter in French] A denial.
· [Lamari] A denial about what?
[Reporter] About an article published in the national press; and that is one thing –
· [Lamari, interrupting] [first words indistinct] You mean the article published yesterday by you which says that I earn 25m [in centimes] dinars. You created a problem for me with my wife. [Laughter in the background] You created a problem with my wife. She told me: You must have another wife [more laughter]. You bring home 9m dinars where is the rest, the other 16m? Who do you give it to? These are the problems you are creating –
[Reporter, interrupting] It is not me.
· [Lamari] Forgive me, it is not personal, I am talking about the newspaper [laughter].
Rift between presidency, army
[Reporter] Do you have an answer for my first question because many things were said about this and these words had repercussions. That was the first question. The second question is: Some circles are saying that when it was dealt blows in Afghanistan and some countries in southeast Asia, Al-Qa’idah could possible move to some parts of Africa. Has Algeria now come out of the period of the terrorist threat or is there another period? And the third question: there has been talk about a rift between the president and the [military] establishment, is this true? What is reality and what is fiction in all this?
· [Lamari in Arabic] Let us start with the third point. Is there a rift between the president of the republic and the military establishment? Forget about the past three years, because this issue existed even during [President Lamine] Zeroual’s term in office, although President Zeroual was a friend, a general and a military man. I read once in our newspapers that one day I pulled out my pistol and told him: You have to take such and such a decision. The truth is that he is the president of the republic and it is true that he is [also] the defence minister and the constitution does not prevent him from being defence minister. It is the president of the republic’s right. It is up to him to appoint a [defence] minister or not. It is his right.
The president of the republic’s powers are clear and he assumes them and the army has missions and the chief of staff has clear prerogatives. I do not meddle in the affairs or actions of the president of the republic. The decision belongs to him and he can take any decision.
Naturally, as regards military issues, and as defence minister, we hold working sessions and we discuss our military issues and decisions are taken. Two or three days ago, there were promotions in the army and naturally the president of the republic, who is also defence minister, presented a dossier. We make suggestions to the president of the republic and the final decision belongs to him. Talk about the black cabinet, the pink or yellow one and so one, honestly this is all [changes train of thought and reverts to French]. I will tell this: It has happened that even when there was an elected president of the republic, we felt concerned [as heard].
I repeat: I am talking about General, sorry, President Lamine Zeroual. But throughout the world, especially the Algerian world, President Zeroual was regarded not a president of the republic, but first of all as a general. It is true that [in Arabic] we got together and helped each other [in French] but I can tell you that in 1992 we opened a gap in the circle which we closed it again with the 1999 elections [when Bouteflika was elected]. The army is only in charge of its constitutional missions. The rest is only lies; I say it and I repeat it: the rest is only lies. I strongly deny all this. What was the other question?
[Reporter] The question was about Al-Qa’idah organization –
· [Lamari, interrupting] You mean that Al-Qa’idah come here to our country, let it come. These are wild imaginings – I apologize to you as journalists – from some journalists who are short [of copy]. They think: Al-Qa’idah, Afghanistan, therefore it will withdraw to [changes train of thought]. First of all, let me tell you that contacts with Al-Qa’idah [presumably by Algerian Islamist armed groups] never ceased from the beginning. We denounced that throughout the world but nobody wanted to believe us. Then there were the 11 September [attacks] and people said: Fine. There is Al-Qa’idah and there is [Usamah] Bin-Ladin and God knows what. But whether they can come and set up base in Algeria, I will say that Algeria is not a conquered country for the terrorists so that they can come and settle here. If they do turn up, they are welcome [said tongue-in-cheek] and we will deal with them. That is all.
[Unidentified reporter in French] You gave an interview a month ago to [the London-based] Al-Mushahid Assiyasi, and according to what was reported to us by a national newspaper, you denied any Moroccan involvement in the terrorist process. In this case, are you contradicting the statements made by some Algerian institutions and even the statements made by the president of the republic who said that Morocco was indeed implicated in the terrorist operations, such as the one in Beni-Ounif [near Bechar, on the Moroccan-Algerian border] and so on?
My second question: First I would like to welcome such a meeting which means that taboos are falling down, and so much the better for Algeria, and this is why I would like to ask you to forgive me for being blunt. I am going to ask a question everyone is talking about: whenever there is talk about the political-financial Mafia, people say the army is behind it, especially the generals. When people talk about the containers [used to import cheap goods], they say the army is behind it, especially the generals –
· [Lamari – interrupting] [words indistinct] of the generals.
Morocco not behind terrorist operations
[Reporter] Yes. It supports what you were saying earlier. What concerns me are the economic reforms and steps towards modernity for our country. Do you think that today there are generals who are obstructing the development process because it may run counter to their own interests, in other words that they might take stances against the country?
· [Lamari in French] I say it and I confirm it, we hold nothing against the official Morocco, in other words the monarchy and the government, regarding the armament or support for our terrorists. I say it and I repeat it. However, that there may be border populations, or a minor head of department who are manipulating the situation to help the terrorists, I say yes.
There were terrorist groups on the Algerian-Moroccan border, especially in the Bechar region. But we know that there were border populations who used to help them and give them shelter in exchange for money. I am weighing my words and I say it again: We have no information that Morocco, as a monarchy and a state, has helped, prepared or equipped Algerian terrorists, on the contrary.
The other question was about the generals and the containers. Thank God [I do not feel concerned]. First of all, regarding the economic reforms or other reforms, I will tell you that the last to be informed in this area is the military establishment. We have nothing to do with the decisions or other matters for the simple reason that the military institution does not take part either in the Council of Government or the Council of Ministers. We learn about the decisions like anybody else. Some say that it is us who are forcing things. I tell you this much: I have worked with several prime ministers, at least since 1992, and I have worked with scores of ministers, and thank God they are still alive, since 1992, and if anyone has been forced to take a decision because a member of the army command ordered them or forced them to or even just tried to force them, I would be grateful if they made it public.
Corruption in the army
People say the generals are corrupt. I will give you an example about the ravine of the Wild Woman [in Algiers]. The shanty-town spread everywhere. One day I was driving past, I noticed that the state authorities were using bulldozers to make roads leading up to the shanty-town. It is true that I made a fuss. The state assumed its responsibilities and destroyed most if not all of the shanty-town. The reaction was immediate: Gen Lamari has ordered the demolition of the shanty-town and he is launching a building project, so the land must belong to him now.
Listen as regards the fight against corruption, do not delude yourselves, there is corruption and we live in it. However, I can only say, and I am not mistaken, that we might be the only institution, in our ranks, to fight really against this scourge. The sanctions in our institution are much harsher. If anyone, unfortunately for them, makes a mistake, first they face the disciplinary sanction; then they face sanctions before the court and the third is the statutory sanction.
Please know that if a senior officer, irrespective of their rank, makes a mistake and if they appear before the court and are convicted, it is a man who will have lost everything because in addition to the penal sanction, he loses his rank and is demoted to the rank of private. Even if he is 50, he will start from the bottom, with all the consequences this entails. There is a case known to you, I mean the former Lt [Habib] Souadia [who wrote the controversial book The Dirty War in which he accused the army of being behind some of the massacres]. It is one case. It may be at a low level, but it is a case. He made a mistake. He was caught. He was tried together with three or four of his associates. He was convicted. As the statutory provisions stipulate, he was demoted to the rank of private and then expelled from the army.
Now it is easy to talk about the bridge of the generals or the bridge of the colonels, or whatever. Now I can tell you, and I make this appeal, if anyone has any evidence let them produce it because we do not work from hearsay. When we have some information, we open an investigation, and the investigation will either exonerate the person or will confirm he made a mistake, in which case he will pay.
It is no good spreading rumours. They may suit everyone. If someone is having difficulties in his economic sector he may say: This is because the generals are cheating too much. No gentlemen, we do not buy it. If the generals were the huge traffickers they are made out to be, they would not wait for their salary slip. Many of the generals who are here come up to me and tell me they have not received their salary slip. This is the reality. This is why I strongly deny [these allegations].
Now I would not go as far as to say that there is not anyone, be they a general, a colonel or a captain, who has not tried to fiddle. Good luck to them but if they are ever caught, they know the rule, and they do exist.
Now to go back to the article published in El Khabar, and I am not accusing you in person. There was indeed an article which listed people’s remuneration. I find myself, I do not know which position, with 250,000 dinars per month. [Addressing an officer] Kerari. As it happens, yesterday I received [my salary slip] because it is the end of the month because we all receive at the end of the month a statement of the monthly earnings and the salary slip. [Showing two statements he takes out of two separate envelopes] This is a statement for when someone goes away, for accommodation or something else. On it, there is the total amount, and it is from the commander of our paying centre, and I can see that I have 98,946 dinars. These are the details of the salary: the deductions, the payments, the allowances and so on.
I am the highest ranking army officer and I occupy the highest function in the army, my exact salary is 98,946. 94 dinars. If the press is interested in the army officers’ salaries, I invite you, arrange it among yourselves, to the Ministry of National Defence, and you can get in touch with Col Chiat [phonetic] here, and you will, obtain, from the communications cell, all the details on the salaries, from the conscripted private to the general. We have nothing to hide, everything is transparent. You must also know that our salaries are not paid in secret. Like all the Algerians, these salaries are paid via the post office. Therefore, I strongly deny these imaginings.
I said earlier, jokingly, that I nearly had a problem with my wife but it is only to tell you where some thoughtless statements or things could lead to sometimes. If my wife did not trust me she could ask me where do you take the other 16m [centimes]? This is the reality. Please go ahead.
Army modernization process
[Unidentified reporter in French] Here in [the military academy of] Cherchell, the ANP has begun what we might appropriately call a modernization and redeployment. Do you have any accurate military details on this modernization in terms of personnel and especially equipment. In this respect, what is the state of international cooperation, particularly with the major countries such the United States, Russia, China and others?
· [Lamari in French] It is true that we have said that we are going to professionalize the People’s National Army. You will agree with me that we never said that we are going to create a professional army. We said professionalize. In other words, and this will be of interest to many people, what will become of the National Service in all this? The national service [military conscription] will always have its place within the People’s National Army. It is true that tomorrow’s national service will concern fewer youths, in terms of numbers and the duration will also be greatly reduced.
If we ever thought about abolishing the national service, the events of the past 10 years would have dissuaded us from going ahead with it. Do not forget that there was a savage media campaign against the military institution which some people wanted to destroy at all costs. Remember the « who is killing who? » campaign and the likes.
It is true that we do not know how to communicate but our young conscripts go on leave and discuss things with their relatives and their friends. These conscripts know the reality. Let us take the example of Bentalha [where hundreds of civilians were massacred], the units which intervened included conscripts and the latter are in a good position to know the reality. These were our best lawyers, first of all among our people. This is why the national service will also find its place within the People’s National Army.
Cooperation with foreign armies
To go back to the issue professionalization, it is true that we do not publicize how far we have got to, but professionalization has begun and it is living day by day and we are moving forward; we are moving [slowly but] surely whether in terms of personnel or in terms of equipment.
As far as the rapprochement with foreign armies is concerned, it is true that we were subjected, not only in this area but in many others, [changes train of thought]. We were treated like people stricken with the plague and everybody was avoiding us. Praise be to God, things have changed, especially since 1997 when we received the first US admiral of the Sixth Fleet who set the trend.
We have no complex in approaching the armies and the commands of other foreign armies. We establish contacts with them and we observe their working practices, we learn and we leave without any complex, whether it was with the Americans yesterday, the Italians, or tomorrow with the French, the Spanish, the Tunisians, the Moroccans, and so on. We have no complex in this area. We know what we are worth and they know what we are worth and the best way to get to know each other is to hold joint exercises, meet and exchange experiences lived by everyone of us. Therefore, we seek this kind of contacts and we multiply them. Go ahead.
[Unidentified reporter in French] You declared to the London-based magazine Al-Mushahid Assiyasi that nobody stays for ever at their post and that your current post will be your last. My question is: Is this a farewell message and is your departure imminent? The second question: Regarding the state of emergency, I would like to know your personal opinion about the lifting of the state of emergency which was already one of the themes of the last electoral campaign.
This is « my last post », says Gen Lamari
· [Lamari in French] It is true that I have told a magazine that this will be my last post. It is not a secret for the colleagues who are here because we have discussed it for a while and I have had the opportunity to tell them it is going to be my last post. I confirm it. I do not have any more claims; that is enough. It is my last post. It might be in one week, in six months, a year or three years. Only God knows. Nothing has been planned.
As far as I am concerned, it is a decision. It is enough, even steel weakens. That is all. One would like to spend some time with his children and grandchildren. That is all. For your information, and my colleagues are here to confirm it, since 1992 I have taken no Thursday and no Friday off [in other words no week-end], and celebrated no religious festival. This is the reality. [I have worked] 365 days a year. It is true that things have improved a little bit in the past year. But it is my daily fate to be here. It is time for me to have a rest. This is life. After a number of years, in any post, whether in the military or elsewhere, a man in charge would have given everything. He must move on and allow someone else to [take over and] look at things with new eyes and leave his mark too.
I am saying this because I sincerely believe it. However, nothing has been planned and only God knows.
Civilian defence minister
Have I answered your question? Regarding your first question, you spoke about the possibility of a civilian defence minister. I say: why [not]? Who is against [the idea]? There is only one condition. If ever the situation arose, what would we ask for? That he is Algerian. That is all. He must be Algerian. Apart from that, where is the problem? Because what people ignore is that in our organization, I mean the military institution, the missions and the attributions of the minister of national defence are very clear.
The missions and the attributions of the chief of staff are [also] very clear. There is absolutely no problem that a national defence minister is appointed, whether tomorrow, after tomorrow, next year or in 10 years time. It is up to the president to decide because as I have already said the constitution is drawn up in such a way that the president can appoint a minister or not appoint one. If he wants to appoint a civilian national defence minister tomorrow, we will only ask that he be Algerian, that is all. We welcome anyone.
Rumours of army involvement in killings
As for the second question and the accusations about « who is killing who? », you know that during the « who is killing who? » period, I read in a certain foreign press that I was seen in Rais [where hundreds of civilians were massacred] landing with Gen Fodhil in a helicopter at night, and we were apparently seen slitting children’s throats. You have all read it. I will not dwell on it because the aim was to break what was still solid then in the country, namely the People’s National Army. As I say, they are wasting their time because it will not stand against the existing facts.
As regards the court cases, such as the one involving [retired Gen] Khaled Nezzar, in the Souadia affair. Mr Khaled decided himself to launch a counterattack. This has led to one result. I do not know if you had a look at Mr Khaled’s book which contained a number of arguments.
It is true that as far as I am concerned I already knew what I read but for the ordinary people [it was important to see] all these documents gathered into one. I must tell you that personally I agreed that Gen Khaled Nezzar, in his capacity as general and former defence minister, should start these legal proceedings. It is a trial which will go beyond the ordinary defamation. Let us root out the evil once and for all.
God willing, Gen Nezzar will be vindicated and at the end of the day it is Algeria which will be (?vindicated).
[Unidentified reporter in French] If you allow me, I would like to go back to the issue of the professionalization [of the army]. People have said that studies are being finalized. This morning, the commander of the [Cherchell] academy talked about training which took into account the requirements of the professionalization. Is there a specific timetable to this end? The second question is about communication. Do the communications cells which have been set up [in the various regional military commands] deal only with security reports or with communication in general?
State of emergency
· [Lamari in French] I will tell you immediately that the security reports are within the prerogatives of the Interior Ministry. Let us be clear about this. This may be the opportunity to answer a concern. People think the army is everything because there is a state of emergency. I am flabbergasted that when there is a state of emergency senior officials in our country immediately think it is the army. It is not true. The army has nothing to do with the state of emergency and it is not made for the army.
Read the text on the state of emergency. There is only one article which concerns the army indirectly, namely that the interior minister can put the military authority, in one part of the territory or in all of it, in charge of anti-terrorist operations. Why? Because even the fight against terrorism is a mission for maintaining public order and maintaining public order is one of the interior minister’s perennial missions.
Therefore, if there is information, and every now and then it is true, Gen Fodhil might give them. But the communications cells were not created for that purpose. The main mission of the communications cells is to provide information to society and our people on the People’s National Army, its structure, the way its functions and on its problems. This is the issue. So the communications cells do not have only this authority. We have a wider vision.
It is true, and I do not want to accuse the press of not knowing the army and so on. I am not blaming just the press because we too lived in isolation. Maybe there were problems at the time which did not allow us [to communicate]. We have decided it was time and we are starting. We too will learn and maybe we will make mistakes but we will correct them. The main thing is to have this symbiosis between our people and their army because this army was not imported. It did not come from the Moon or Mars. It is ours whether good or bad. That is the truth.
As you know, the state of siege means a transfer of powers to the army. [Probably edited at this stage] This issue was the pet subject of one of the parties for many years, namely lifting the state of emergency, because in their mind lifting the state of emergency would mean that the army would leave the field open to the terrorists. I will remind you that there is a 1991 law. It is a law which allows the prime minister to call the People’s National Army in similar circumstances. This law was used only once in 1992 by the then-prime minister, [Sid-Ahmed] Ghozali, following the resignation of President Chadli. Remember when he made his statement and I am here to confirm it, before [as heard], when it became clear that President Chadli had decided to resign, he [Ghozali] called the People’s National Army, by virtue of the 1991 law, to be ready to intervene in the event of disturbances and other matters.
This law still exists, Therefore even if the state of emergency is lifted it does not mean that we will pack up our Kalashnikovs, return to the barracks and abandon our people. It is too simplistic.
No agreement signed between ANP and AIS
[Unidentified report in French] I would like to go back to the so-called authorized source which spoke on behalf of the ANP in one of the Algerian papers [Le Soir d’Algerie on 23 June] and which made a number of statements, particularly with regard to the negotiations with the AIS [Islamic Salvation Army, military wing of the Islamic Salvation Front] in which it said that the ANP never negotiated with the AIS and that the ANP was not happy about the way the amnesty was applied. What is your reaction?
· [Lamari in French] I have had the opportunity to say it and maybe I am going to astonish you: there was never any agreement between the ANP and the AIS. There was never an agreement. Furthermore, I will tell you that not one member of the command of the People’s National Army got in touch with this formation or with the one to which it was affiliated, with one exception. When these people started hesitating and 13 January was getting closer, I charged Gen Fodhil who is present here, and who was my assistant for operations, to go to Jijel to tell these people that they had until 13 January to come out and lay down their weapons otherwise they would be destroyed.
It is true that the press then wrote saying a general had gone to negotiate and so on. He went to give them an ultimatum, nothing more and nothing else, and I challenge any quarter, whatever it may be, to produce [a copy of] the agreement. When there is an agreement, there is at least one copy with me and another with the other side. Let them produce it. This is the reality. Go ahead.
[Unidentified reporter in French] In this respect, I will go back to your statements in which you blamed [the resumption of terrorist attacks] on less vigilance which –
· [Lamari, interrupting] I am not blaming, I am merely making an observation.
[Reporter] An observation about less vigilance. I only wanted to know if you personally think that the repercussions of the law on civil concord have had a negative impact on the lower level of vigilance. Thank you.
· [Lamari] I will begin with the end. The civil concord as it was, because the AIS issue existed before President Bouteflika; it emerged during President Lamine [Zeroual]’s term in office and when it was more or less finalized Mr Lamine decided to leave. The file was outstanding. President Bouteflika took over the file and gave it a political configuration and hoped for the best.
Now to say whether the civil concord is good or not, I will tell you I backed the civil concord since young people who were stuck in the mountains, threatened by their leaders, managed to come out, lay down their arms and go home. The people we won over were Algerian, because after all who is this terrorist? It is an Algerian citizen. If we can win over one Algerian, so much the better. It is true that among those who surrendered they were some black sheep. Some became thieves, others went back [to the mountain] and so on. But in their vast majority, there were Algerians who had come out of hiding, with their good side and their bad side, but they are still Algerians. If only in this respect, it was positive. I say it and I repeat it.
It is no secret that two campaigns were launched, the first one during President Zeroual’s time, namely the clemency law which was at the behest of the military institution for the simple reason that in our fight against terrorism we realized that these young terrorists felt caught and afraid to return [to the fold]. They were afraid of the state and afraid of the terrorists. We told them we give them one chance to return. We studied this and we proposed and it was accepted. That was the clemency law which also had positive aspects.
There was the other problem of the AIS. It is true that as regards these people, after numerous attempts to make contact, the army agreed. I said yes. Then it became the job of the special services and I authorized them to make contact and do the work with the AIS. This is the reality and I say that this was a positive thing for the country.
Press treats terrorists as « heroes »
It is true that in some specialized papers, such as Le Matin and the likes, they are getting confused. One day, they say 15 repentant [terrorists] returned to the mountain, and so on. That is enough. It is a disgrace. If it is true, then publicize it but lies like this, please. This morning, for example, I read in one of the newspapers, I cannot remember which, that 100 terrorists had infiltrated Algiers. A whole hundred are apparently in Algiers, come on.
You will allow me to make this personal remark. Unfortunately, there are terrorist acts. One day a family of six, another day one policeman killed. But what really hurts me personally is when I read a certain press which, instead of condemning these terrorist acts, hails these terrorists almost as heroes with headlines like « Hattab strikes again ». Please stop this kind of work. Instead of calling for vigilance and condemning [these acts] some newspapers are doing the opposite. It is not on.
[The aim of the terrorists] was the destruction of the republican regime and the establishment of a totalitarian theocratic regime. It is over. They know it and we know it. It was an Utopian dream. This is why I am saying that terrorism has been defeated. Now, let not forget, what was the situation like four or five years ago? Come on.Could anyone go out after 1700 in Algiers then?
Let us talk frankly. There was nothing. There was a situation and we have broken terrorism but fundamentalism is still here. Just watch the television and listen to some sermons. This is not a problem for the army, the police or the gendarmerie. It is somebody else’s job. Let us have another look at the texts on the religious preaching. Let us have another look at the texts on the mosques. Let us discuss the problem of the schools and education in our schools. This is what I call fundamentalism.
We are still at the same point regarding this issue even if there is a will but the results speak for themselves. It is a global fight against terrorism, from money to everything, if we want to protect our country. As far as we are concerned, we have been charged, along with the security services, with the fight against terrorism and we believe we carried it out well. We have not finished it but God willing we will finish it but the fight against fundamentalism is first of all a fight of a political and economic nature and that fight unfortunately has not reached its goals yet.
[Unidentified reporter in Arabic] Since you think that fundamentalism still exists, does this fundamentalism exist within the Islamic parties which are currently accredited [meaning the Movement of Society for Peace, Ennahda Movement and the Movement for National Reform]. There is also the issue of [the two FIS leaders] Ali Belhadj and Abassi Madani. El Hachemi Cherif [leader of the Democratic and Social Movement – MDS] yesterday asked that these two people be tried again. Do you agree that these two people should be retried and not released nit year?
· [Lamari in Arabic] We are a state of law. These two people faced charges, were tried and were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Today they are in prison. One is still in prison and the other has come out [in French] and is under house arrest. What is certain is that if nothing new happens till then, when he has served his 12-year sentence, nothing will prevent his release. That is normal. Therefore it is out of the question for us to maintain Belhadj beyond his 12 years in prison. However, what I said is that with their release there will be problems, exactly the same problem which occurred for [Abdelkader] Hachani [another FIS leader who was assassinated supposedly by more extremist elements] whom we warned that he was in danger. We asked to give him protection but he refused. You know what happened in the end.
The same thing will happen to these two [Belhadj and Madani]. They have been sentenced by the terrorists. This is based on information we have. When the time comes for his release, he is free to choose, If he wants protection, the state cannot deny him that but it cannot impose it on him. If God forbid they kill him, it is too bad for him. That is all. Go ahead.
Responsibility for events in Kabylie region
[Unidentified reporter in French] There is a reality which is that the gendarmerie is part of the army and the death of Massinisah [in Kabylie region] and the abduction of schoolchildren in Amezoun [phonetic] were acts committed by the gendarmerie and so far not one of these gendarmes has been tried. I mean the conflict is continuing and is entering its second year. Do you not think that the people responsible for these acts should still be tried?
· [Lamari in French] Indeed, the gendarmerie is part of the People’s National Army but you must know also that in terms of the conventional maintenance of public order, it comes under the full authority of the Interior Ministry, just as it comes under the authority of the justice system in certain areas. This is to clarify the situation a little bit. You are asking whether it is high time these people appeared before the court. I can tell you that whenever an action is undertaken on the ground, and I am not talking about judicial inquiries and the likes, there is always a command investigation.
We did not wait six or eight months to bring those who made a mistake immediately before justice. What I can tell you is that the commander of the gendarmerie held news conferences at the time but there was a news blackout on the event. The information did not come out. What I can tell you is that there are 23 members of the gendarmerie who made a mistake and who were immediately brought before justice. You know that if you want to be fair with the judiciary [changes train of thought], let us take the example of the young Guermah, may God bless his soul, it is not that straightforward. I have followed the case day after day until now, it is not that simple with all the reconstructions and questions like why was the young boy transferred to Tizi Ouzou? Why was he not treated in Tizi Ouzou? Why was he transferred to Algiers? The examining magistrate is asking all these questions.
In any case, the trial will be held in public. I would like to say this: what the press and others seem to ignore is that the hearings at the military court are public and you can attend. What is certain is that those who have made a mistake will be punished. But please allow me to say also, although we are not directly concerned, that it was only the problem of the young Guermah, may God bless his soul, or the two youths from Bejaia which led to the events in Kabylie. It goes much deeper than that. What is certain is that some people tried to say that the events in Kabylie, after numerous [changes train of thought]. They said: we are in a state of siege. What does it mean? It means that the powers were transferred to the military authority which was in charge of managing the events in Kabylie. Gentlemen, I say no, we are not in the habit of shirking our responsibilities, of shirking the responsibility of our acts, good or bad. But as regards the events in Kabylie, the People’s National Army had absolutely nothing to do with them. It is true that it was reported in our press: the Red Berets have landed, or the berets of – God knows what colour – have landed in Kabylie. It is the invasion of Kabylie. Why, is Kabylie on the planet Mars? It is part of our people and it is our people.
Therefore I say that the People’s National Army never had to meddle in the events in Kabylie. In any case, the prime minister was very clear about it in his interview. What did he say:
1- That we are not in a state of siege, even the state of emergency is not in force.
2- That the units of the People’s National Army are only engaged in the fight against terrorism.
3- That the events in Kabylie were managed, or something to that effect, by the local and political authorities in the country. Full stop.
Now, let us talk about the events in Kabylie, and the commander of the 1st [Military Region] is here. Our fear now are the fake roadblocks. Balaclavas were recently worn to rob the citizens. Our fear is that one of our patrols will come face to face with them. This is the problem because our patrols do not ask for ID papers first. If they come across one of these roadblocks, they use their machine-guns first then they ask who it is. This is our fear. We pray God every night that our patrols do not come across one of such roadblocks. This is the reality.
[Unidentified reporter in Arabic] Mohand Issad [in charge of investigating events in Kabylie] should have at least been asked by the military authorities to get in touch with the responsible military sides [as heard]. Was the lawyer Issad given that opportunity and did he really refuse or did the army refuse that he goes beyond standing in the barracks?
· [Lamari in Arabic] Let us understand clearly this: the commission [of inquiry] had all the prerogatives from the president of the republic, and you all heard about it. [In French] The commission had a free hand and everything was at its disposal. I only confirmed this by getting in touch with Prof Issad and telling him more or less that all the barracks, all the commands, starting with the chief of staff, are at your disposal to shed light on that. I am not saying whether he accepted or refused. He did not say no but he did not come to the barracks. This is all.
This was in implementation of the instructions given by the president of the republic. I preferred to put Prof Issad in the best conditions to work, and I am prepared to accept his invitation to hold discussions with him and to give him additional information. In any case, he requested it in writing twice on specific areas and I met his requests.
Thank you very much. I think it would be in all our interest to renew this kind of meeting. I do not like interviews and it will be, God willing, on an irregular basis, and we will have a coffee together and I will do my best to reply to your requests and questions with the frankness which has always been ours.
Source: Algerian TV, Algiers, in Arabic 2135 gmt 2 Jul 02