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 Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 12:45 GMT
Analysis: An unstable peace
Tens of thousands have died in eight years of violence
By Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy

After the sustained and brutal violence of the 1990s, Algerians yearn for the restoration of peace. But most analysts believe the political conditions are not yet in place to enable that to happen.

The election last year of a new President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, created a new climate of optimism.

He pledged to end the violence which had plagued the country since 1992 and usher in a new era of national reconciliation.

It was widely assumed Mr Bouteflika had the backing of the powerful military, and might be able to give an army-backed regime a legitimacy it had hitherto lacked.

The new president launched a peace initiative at the heart of which was a limited amnesty for Islamic militants.

According to official figures, about 1,500 militants have surrendered since then.

But at the same time President Bouteflika issued a tough warning of an all-out offensive against the armed Islamic groups if they failed to give themselves up by 13 January.

Foreign support

The initiative appeared to enjoy considerable support within the country - and among Western governments, alarmed at the continuing instability of a country which is a major supplier of oil and gas and is strategically situated on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.

As the former colonial power, France, which has retained important links with Algeria, has been strongly supportive of Mr Bouteflika's drive for peace.

But analysts believe an end to the long-running violence is not yet in sight.

They argue - as do opposition figures in Algeria - that the president's peace plan lacks real political content.

Islamic message

Mr Bouteflika wants the Islamic groups to lay down their arms, but he has shown no sign of readiness to re-integrate the Islamists into the political life of the country.

The key player in this regard remains the FIS, or Islamic Salvation Front. In 1992 the FIS came close to winning the country's first freely-contested parliamentary election.

But the military cancelled the poll, took power and outlawed the FIS, thereby triggering eight years of savage violence.

The FIS today is much weaker than it was then. But its Islamist message still holds some attraction for the tens of thousands who voted for it in the past.

It may well be that President Bouteflika has discovered the limits of his position - and that the military is still not ready for a historic compromise with the country's Islamist forces.

See also:

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