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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 15:29 GMT
France hails ties with Algeria
Abdelaziz Belkhadem and Hubert Vedrine
Mr Vedrine was welcomed by his Algerian counterpart
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine arrived in Algiers on Tuesday for one-day visit that comes amid growing criticism in France of Algeria's human rights record.

I am sure that things will proceed within a very good and constructive climate

Hubert Vedrine
Mr Vedrine was welcomed at the airport by his Algerian counterpart, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, and is also due to meet President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

On his arrival in Algiers, Mr Vedrine expressed his satisfaction with relations between France and Algeria.

But a group of French and Algerian intellectuals and writers have called on Paris to review its policy towards its former colony because of allegations about the involvement of the Algerian security forces in torturing and killing civilians.

In the latest violence, more than 30 people were killed at the weekend, including a senior member of an Algerian Islamist group who was an important supporter of the government's peace initiative.

Loud criticism

Mr Vedrine's visit is yet another sign of the easing of relations between Algeria and France after a period of strain, as a result of the crisis in Algeria.

Hasn't the French government supported Algerian policy ... long enough

Intellectuals' appeal
He is the third French minister to go to Algiers in as many weeks.

The increasing closeness has been the target of loud criticism from a group of respected French and Algerian intellectuals who charged that France's policy towards its former colony amounts to complicity in crimes against humanity.

In an open letter to Mr Vedrine they say that France should distance itself from the military-backed authorities in Algeria who they accused of silencing and even killing their opponents.

Witnessed massacres

In Friday's issue of the daily El Mooned, the intellectuals urged the French government to distance itself from the Algerian government's policies.

"Hasn't the French Government supported Algerian policy - which on the pretext of combating terrorism is nothing but the political and physical eradication of all opposition - long enough?" the writers asked.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine
Verdine: third French minister to visit in as many weeks
The intellectuals also point to a book just published in France by a former Algerian officer in which he describes how the army massacred and tortured civilians.

Such criticism may be embarrassing to French officials, but a BBC analyst says it is unlikely they would allow it to undermine relations with Algeria.

Even when relations were strained European, France shielded Algeria from criticism of its human rights record in international gatherings.

Hundreds of thousands of Algerians live in France and the two countries have close commercial and cultural links.

Throughout the nine years of strife in Algeria, successive French governments have been careful to minimise the damage to these ties.

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See also:

13 Feb 01 | Middle East
Algeria and France: A tense relationship
12 Feb 01 | Middle East
Algerian massacre: 26 dead
20 Jan 01 | Middle East
Algerian president under pressure
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Algerian violence flares
07 Dec 00 | Middle East
Timeline: Algeria
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