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Monday, June 26, 2006

Algeria forces kill 19 Islamic militants: reports

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian government forces killed 19 Islamist militants in attacks on mountain hideouts of rebels who have rejected an amnesty aimed at ending years of strife, newspapers reported on Monday.

Backed by helicopters, some 800 troops and paramilitary police raided bases of the rebel Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) on Sunday in the eastern province of Annaba, 600 km (375 miles) from the capital Algiers, dailies Liberte and L'Expression said, citing security sources.

Authorities were not immediately available for comment.

The operation, which is still going on, was launched following an upsurge in attacks by Islamist radicals this month in which some 31 people were killed.

Most of the killings are believed by security experts to have been carried out by the GSPC, Algeria's largest outlawed rebel movement which has opposed laying down arms in exchange for an amnesty offered by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The peace offer, which entered into force in February and will expire next August, gave Islamic guerrillas six months to surrender and receive a pardon provided they were not responsible for massacres, rapes or bombings of public places.

The government said recently that some 800 rebels were still active.

The violence in the oil-exporting North African country broke out in 1992 when the authorities canceled a parliamentary election that radical Islamists were poised to win. The government had feared an Iranian-style revolution.

The strife has cost up to 200,000 lives and $30 billion in damages due to sabotages by rebels.

The level of violence has fallen sharply in recent years, paving the way for the Muslim country to attract foreign investment and emerge gradually from isolation.
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