Militias implicated in Algeria’s reign of terror
By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent of The independent
LIKE BLOOD, the truth is seeping out of Algeria. The first trickle appeared in the privately owned French language newspaper Liberte and in La Tribune: that at least a dozen officials of the local « home guard » – the « auto-defence » units of village « guards », armed and supplied by the government – had been arrested for imposing a reign of terror against local civilians around Relizane in the west of the country, 160 miles from Algiers. Two mass graves had been dug up, containing the remains of 79 people, some of whom had been buried alive. The mayors of Relizane and the neighbouring town of Odjioua had also been detained.
According to the newspapers – whose information was not officially confirmed – El-Haj Fergane, a member of the RDN (the government party, the Rassemblement National Democratique), and Haj el-Abed, the head of the local defence unit, had been arrested in Oran. More disturbing was the evidence of a widow whose husband had been, she said, executed by the Relizane mayor. Within a few days, more revelations were forthcoming.
At least 128 cases were being brought before the Algerian courts, according to the newspaper Al Watan, of policemen and « home guard » militia involving the murder of 54 civilians. The paper said that 120 police officers were now imprisoned in the old French jail of Barberousse at Serkadji in Algiers city, charged with theft, assault, corruption and « abuse of their power ».
It added that several members of the « home guard » had been sentenced to four months imprisonment, that a policeman had received a 20-year jail term for death threats and that another had been given 15 years for the rape of four women in a public garden in Algiers city.
Hitherto, the Algerian authorities have always blamed « Islamists » for the series of massacres in the country, whose civil war has claimed up to 150,000 lives since elections — which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would have won – were cancelled by the military-backed government in 1991. Algerian officials have been under growing pressure from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to bring the perpetrators of the village massacres to justice, and it is possible that these latest revelations are an attempt to assuage the storm of criticism.
Three former members of the security forces, who are now seeking political asylum in Britain, last autumn gave The Independent terrifying evidence of torture and « disappearances » of civilians in the Algerian war. But the reports from Oran suggest that the « home guard » units may have played a part in the slaughter of villagers, many of whom voted for the FIS in the 1991 elections. The government blames the Islamic Armed Group (GIA) for the bloodbath around Algiers in which hundreds of men, women and children were killed with knives and hatchets; many were decapitated.
It was Abderahman Meziane-Cherif, when minister of interior in 1995, who first decided to arm villagers against the « terrorists » whom the government accused of murdering civilians in the war. Thousands of men in remote hamlets were given weapons, often guns which had been captured from the French during the 1954-62 war of independence, some of them relics from the armouries of the Third Reich.
When I visited the « home guard » in the village of Igoujdal in the Kabyle mountains in March of 1995, the men were being armed with French breech-loading rifles, German sub-machine guns of Second World War vintage, and Italian hunting rifles. Officially, all were vetted by the authorities – but the men were already talking about their killing of an « Islamist » from a neighbouring village who had allegedly been carrying a list of Igoudjal citizens to be assassinated.
When I asked an armed villager if this was not how the Lebanese civil war began, he replied: « Impossible. These men are Algerians fighting for Algeria, who are crushing the fascism of fundamentalism. »
It was the eloquent and brave leader of the trade unionist Algerian Workers Party who first spoke out against the arming of these men – again, in an interview with The Independent.
The government, she said, had been distributing weapons since 1983. « They say they are to defend isolated regions against the Islamists, » she complained in 1995. « There are now armed groups who are out of control in the confusion of war … When a state delegates its security powers to individuals, the state doesn’t exist any more. Now the militias symbolise the privatisation of the war. Some have become little warlords, mafia bands who carry out hold-ups on the roads … »
Her words appear to have been prescient.
Local officials arrested over Algeria massacres
CNN. April 14 /1998
Local officials and commanders of pro-government militias in Algeria have been arrested on charges of carrying out massacres of civilians, Algerian newspapers said on Tuesday.
The French-language La Tribune and Liberte dailies said several local government heads, their aides, and pro-government militia leaders were in custody « because they were involved in extra-judicial executions » of civilians.
The newspapers said the authorities had found at least two mass graves of civilians alleged to have been killed by pro-government militiamen in western Algeria.
They said the suspected local government officials and their militiamen killed 17 civilians and dumped their bodies in a well in Sidi M’Hamed Benaouda area, 240 km (150 miles) southwest of Algiers.
« Another mass grave had been discovered in Relizane where 62 bodies had been found, many of them buried alive, » said Liberte.
The papers did not say when the massacres took place and gave no exact figure for the total number of deaths blamed on pro-government militiamen and local officials.
The government and Algerian newspapers had reported a series of massacres of villagers in Relizane and the killings of more than 40 civilians in Sidi M’Hamed Benaouda between last November and late January this year.
More than 1,400 civilians have been killed in massacres in that period throughout Algeria, including hundreds in Relizane in last January. The government blamed Moslem rebels.
However, no group has claimed responsibility for most of the killings and no independent sources have given clues on the killers or motives behind the slaughtering of poor villagers.
More than 65,000 people have died, according to Western estimates, since Algeria sank into violence early in 1992 following cancellation of a general election in which radical Islamists had taken a commanding lead.
The government has rejected demands for independent investigations, arguing that sending an international commission would « absolve those behind the killings and cast doubts about the identity of the perpetrators of terrorism. »
International human rights groups, U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly urged Algeria to allow international investigators to look into the massacres.
Pointing to the danger of probing the killings, La Tribune said a senior police officer had been killed as he was investigating the massacres. The newspaper said pro-government militiamen were suspected in his death.
La Tribune said the pro-government forces involved in the killings of civilians were also suspected of « extorting funds from villagers in remote areas. »
The bodies of two villagers were found last week in the western area of Naama, Al Khabar newspaper said, adding that the bodies were riddled with bullets.
In Medea region 70 km (45 miles) south of Algiers, the authorities on Monday found the body of a 12-year-old girl who had been mutilated.
The girl had been kidnapped following the massacre of 10 civilians late in January, said Al Khabar.
Maires de Relizane et de Jdiouia: d’autres revelations
Par Feriel H & A. Chenaoui. Liberte, mardi 14 avril 1998
Les revelations hallucinantes qui ont jailli immediatement apres, levent le rideau sur ce qui peut etre considere comme le livre noir de Relizane.
Les sources d’informations narrent les nuits sombres de la ville hantee depuis environ 5 ans par les « hommes cagoules de El Hadj Fergane« , lequel aurait fait vivre aux relizanais une ere de terreur.
La peur des exactions etait tellement forte que, pendant toutes ces annees, le diktat fut vecu dans le silence absolu. Les « hommes cagoules » qui pouvaient a n’importe quel moment faire irruption chez un citoyen ou un autre pour l’embarquer de nuit, auraient eu raison du courage des plus impetieux. Une personne enlevee pouvait etre retrouvee assassinee comme elle pouvait ne plus jamais reemerger.
Maintenant que l’affaire est entre les mains de qui de droit, le mur de silence commence a se fissurer. L’autre face de Relizane commence, egalement, a apparaitre dans toute sa laideur. A Sidi M’hamed Ben Aouda, des sources affirment que 17 corps ont ete retrouves dans un puits. Ce seraient les victimes des P/APC (N.d.l.r.: president de l’assemblee populaire communale) en question et de leurs proches collaborateurs. Ailleurs, dans d’autres communes de Relizane, ce sont carrement des casemates qui ont ete decouvertes avec 62 corps dans leurs entrailles et dont « certains furent enterres vivants « , nous dit-on.
Comment expliquer un tel degre de violence et de haine ? Il semblerait que la genese de l’affaire reside dans la rivalite seculaire entre les deux tribus relizanaises: les Chouala et les Bouabdelli.
A cette derniere appartiennent les deux P/APC de Relizane et de Jdiouia. Ajouter a tout cela, les intimidations associees a des extorsions de fonds et des pillages, des executions, des demolitions de maisons et des kidnappings etc…
Les « hommes cagoules » qui se presentaient la nuit comme etant des elements des services de securite, finissaient, suite a des recoupements faits par les habitants, par etre identifies.
Il semblerait que cela a commencé par l’assassinat d’un fonctionnaire. La veuve de ce dernier aurait, une annee apres, reconnu l’assassin, membre du groupe implique et aurait porte plainte. En outre, des sources affirment que El Hadj Fergane a ete arrete a un barrage avec, dans la malle de sa voiture, un homme kidnappe, ligote et qui n’est autre qu’un certain Mokaddam, membre de l’ONEC. Libere par les membres de l’armee, celui-ci se serait refugie quelque part a l’interieur du pays.
Dans les executions, le nom d’un certain Malih est avance comme etant l’egorgeur du groupe, l’homme de la » sale besogne ».
L’equivalent de 400. 000 FF a ete trouve lors d’une perquisition au domicile d’autres personnes impliquees.
Actuellement, si l’on en croit des sources dignes de foi, seraient en etat d’arrestation a Oran:
- El Hadj El-Abed, maire de Jdiouia ainsi que son fils Adda, bras droit de El Hadj Fergane
- El Hadj Fergane, maire de Relizane surnomme le « Sherif »
- Leurs parents ( fils, freres, neveux, tous patriotes )
- L’ex-P/DEC (N.d.l.r. directeur de l’education) de Oued Gemâa
- L’ex-P/DEC de Bou Daoud (Meriama), les versions different. Certains pretendent qu’il a, a un moment donne, ete mele a une affaire de detournement et qu’il est actuellement en liberte . D’autres affirment qu’il est en detention pour les memes accusations et au meme endroit que les personnes precitees.
- L’ex-P/DEC de la commune de Zemoura aurait ete arrete pour complicite avec le groupe s’il n’avait pas trouve la mort dans un accident de voiture quelques mois auparavent.
La ville de Relizane, meme si, a quelques exceptions pres, est toujours aussi silencieuse et le regard fuyant, semblait, hier, mieux respirer. « Nous sommes contents que l’affaire ait ete mediatisee« . Le silence etait aussi opaque du cote des autorites locales qui, hormis les membres de l’APC de Relizane, se sont toutes portees absentes […]
1- Avant-hier, trois corps de citoyens qui auraient ete executes par lesdits groupes ont ete retrouves et enterres au cimetiere de Relizane.
2- Une veuve dont le mari a ete execute, a formellement identifie, lors d’une confrontation a Oran, El Hadj Fergane comme etant l’executeur de son mari.