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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Algeria says 200 rebels surrender in amnesty

ALGIERS, June 28 (Reuters) - About 200 Algerian Islamist fighters have so far surrendered under an amnesty aimed at ending years of violence, Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said in remarks published on Wednesday.

The number represents a quarter of the total amount of guerrillas estimated by officials to have been at large when the amnesty came into effect in February

The amnesty, which runs out in August, is part of a package of reconciliation measures intended to put a definitive end to years of bloodshed during which 200,000 people died in a nation whose stability is important for the security of north Africa and the wider Mediterranean.

The government-backed El Moudjahid newspaper quoted Zerhouni as saying the number of rebels who had given themselves in recent months "must not be far off 200".

Zerhouni has previously said some 800 were still active. But in his comments in Wednesday's El Moujahid he offered no updated figure on the total number he reckoned were still at large.

Algeria saw this month a surge in attacks by Islamist radicals in which 31 people were killed.

Most of the killings are believed by security experts to have been carried out by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the largest outlawed rebel movement which has rejected the amnesty offered by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The peace offer gives Islamist guerrillas six months to surrender and receive a pardon provided they were not responsible for massacres, rapes or bombings.

The authorities have freed 2,200 jailed Islamist militants under the peace drive which also provides compensation for victims of the violence and people who lost their jobs for suspected links to rebel groups.

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