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 Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 12:03 GMT
US military aid for Algeria
Algerian security forces
The Algerians have been fighting a bloody war

The United States has said that it will supply equipment to help the Algerian Government in its fight against Islamic militants.

The US has been critical of Algeria's human rights record but since 11 September 2001, Algeria has pledged support for the US anti-terrorism campaign and relations have become closer.
Algerian police
Algeria has been ravaged by 10 years of violence

The announcement of military aid was made by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns during a visit to Algiers.

He said the US was drafting a proposal to congress on increasing military aid to assist Algeria's counterterrorism capabilities.

No aid was given to Algeria by the US between 1992 and 2001, because of the cancellation of the 1992 elections and the subsequent violence between government forces and supporters of Islamic groups.

That violence continues despite vigorous government military action, amnesties for the Islamists and this year's elections.

Between 100,000 and 150,000 people have died during the conflict.

Most of the killings have been blamed on the Islamic groups, but human rights organisations have accused the Algerian Government and armed forces of brutality, abductions and torture.

Accused of brutality

Mr Burns said that the drafting of measures for the supply of military equipment and increased aid "aim at intensifying the security cooperation between the countries".

"Washington has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism," he was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

It is not clear exactly what types of military equipment are envisaged, but officials have been reported as saying that it could include night-vision gear.

The comments on the supply of military aid and what the US might have to learn from Algeria will cause concern among human rights groups.

In the past, Human Rights Watch has said the Algerian Government used "arbitrary arrest, disappearances and torture" in its war against armed Islamic militants.

Earlier this year, the British Government was involved in a disagreement with Algeria, when the British Ambassador, Graham Hand Stewart, was quoted by an Algerian newspaper as saying that the country's security services were brutal and paid little attention to human rights.

The British diplomat denied this and said he had been misquoted.

The Algerian newspaper, Le Matin, then published a second account of its interview with the ambassador and said that its recording of the interview showed that he had said "the security services have a tendency to be brutal sometimes".

The European Union has been improving relations with Algeria in recent months, in the face of protests by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Lingering concerns

Despite its closer relations with Algeria over the past 15 months - during which Algeria has handed over a list of 350 Algerians thought to have links with al-Qaeda and has pledged to support the "war on terror" - the US still has concerns over democracy in Algeria.

The New York Times cited US officials as saying that the military programme would proceed slowly because of criticism of Algeria's human rights record.

Algerian troops
Tens of thousands have died in civil strife

There is already a small aid programme under which the US trains Algerian army officers - US officials have said part of the training involves learning how to avoid human rights abuses.

The officials say that cooperation so far between the US and Algeria over terrorism "has been excellent".

On a visit to Algeria in November, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Marc Grossman, said their experience of the consequences of terrorism bound them together.

But a State Department press release also said that he stressed that there was more that the US could do to help with the "enhancement of democracy and in the enhancement of the rule of law".

Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

See also:

25 Nov 02 | Africa
16 Aug 02 | Africa
04 Aug 02 | Africa
01 Jun 02 | Middle East
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
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