Saturday, October 01, 2005

Algerian voters back peace plan

Algerian voters back peace plan

Algerians have overwhelmingly approved a government peace plan aimed at ending a decade-long civil war that left about 100,000 dead. More than 97% of voters in Thursday's referendum backed a plan to grant amnesty to many Islamic militants, the interior minister said. Opposition groups had urged a boycott, saying there could be no reconciliation without proper justice. They want an account for the thousands who disappeared during the conflict. Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni told a news conference 97.43% had voted "Yes". But the BBC's Pascale Harter in Algiers says awkward questions were asked when he said 79% of Algerians had turned out to vote. Some journalists on the ground saw only a trickle of voters going into polling stations, she adds. President Bouteflika says the charter - which follows a 1999 vote for reconciliation that led many militants to lay down their weapons - is the only way for Algeria to modernise and strengthen its ties with the West. But with the fate of more than 6,000 of the disappeared still unknown, many Algerians have remain unconvinced by the president's charter.

Algeria to vote on controversial peace charter

After more than a decade of bloodletting in Algeria that has left at least 150,000 people dead, a controversial blueprint for peace sponsored by President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika is to be put to a referendum. The charter's text would end legal proceedings against detained, exiled or fugitive Islamic extremists "who have already halted their armed activity and surrendered to the authorities". The government estimates that there are about 1,000 armed extremists, whose aim is to install an Islamic state, still at large in Algeria. Only "those involved in mass massacres, rapes and bomb attacks in public places" would be excluded. Bouteflika launched a "civil reconciliation" initiative at the start of his first five-year term in 1999, leading to a partial amnesty for thousands of Islamist rebels who laid down their arms. The program was endorsed overwhelmingly in a referendum in September that year and Bouteflika was reelected in 2004, largely because the peace initiative helped quell the fighting.


Tomorrow's referendum in Algeria on a proposed amnesty for participants in the country's civil war will deny victims and their families the right to truth and justice, Freedom House said today. The Charter would exempt all individuals -- whether in armed groups, state-armed militias or government security forces -- from prosecution for crimes committed during Algeria's civil war. The war, which began in 1992 and claimed more than 150,000 lives, also resulted in thousands of disappearances. The proposed amnesty would rule out investigations into the disappeared. "President Bouteflika's effort to wipe the slate clean is an affront to long standing civil society efforts to bring justice and accountability," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Leaving the legacy of Algeria's abhorrent conflict unresolved creates an obstacle to lasting peace and, by de facto offering immunity to those responsible for grave crimes, raises the specter of future human rights abuses." The Charter comes after years of failed attempts by the Algerian government to properly investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses committed during the civil war. Algeria's emergency laws and other impediments to freedom of association have furthered eroded efforts to uncover the truth of the war years. In a July 13, 2005 declaration, Algerian human rights and victims' rights groups demanded truth and justice as part of any attempt at reconciliation. Freedom House reinforced this position, calling on the Algerian government to establish a truth commission and to pursue reconciliation measures that entail thorough investigations into human rights violations perpetrated by both government and Islamist forces during the civil war.


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