President unveils new reconciliation plan

ALGIERS (AFP) — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has unveiled a draft charter for peace and national reconciliation that will be put to a referendum on September 29, national television reported on Sunday.
The draft calls for “concrete steps to stop bloodshed and restore peace” in the north African country after 13 years of unrest while banning the “exploitation” of Islam for political purposes, Bouteflika was quoted as saying.

It provides for legal proceedings to be dropped against those extremists who ended their armed activities and surrendered to authorities after January 13, 2000, when legislation on “civil reconciliation” took effect.

But the draft excludes those involved in mass killings, rape or bomb attacks in public places, the president said in a speech to senior officials.

Bouteflika launched a “civil reconciliation” initiative at the start of his first five-year term in 1999, leading to partial amnesty for thousands of rebels who laid down their arms as the country’s civil war entered its ninth year.

The programme was endorsed overwhelmingly in a referendum in September that year, and Bouteflika was reelected in 2004, largely because the peace initiative helped quell the fighting, which claimed 150,000 lives and cost the country’s infrastructure some $30 billion.

The new plan provides for proceedings to be dropped against people being sought in Algeria or abroad or who have been sentenced in their absence, if they turn themselves in to the authorities and provided they were not involved in bloodshed or rape.

“Persons involved in activities of support of terrorism who identify themselves to the competent authorities” will also have legal charges against them dropped, Bouteflika said, adding that the plan provides for sentences to be commuted or reduced in the cases of other individuals who have been tried and found guilty of terrorism. The president first mooted the new reconciliation programme in November 2004, when families of those brutally killed in atrocities committed during the war strenuously objected to allowing the perpetrators to escape justice.

Humanitarian and human rights groups that visited Algeria in May and June also voiced reservations over a possible general amnesty.

In a joint statement, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights said: “A general amnesty would leave the heritage of the past unresolved and could undermine future prospects.”

The charter also includes steps aimed at “establishing and consolidating national reconciliation,” in particular “the final lifting of the difficulties and constraints which people who have chosen to join the policy of civil peace continue to experience.”

Furthermore, the charter provides for the “banning of all exercise of a political activity, whatever form it may take, by those responsible for the exploitation of our religion.”

This is so that “the tragic consequence of the odious exploitation of the teachings of Islam, the state religion,” should not be forgotten and “to prevent a repetition of this downward spiral.”

Algeria’s insurgency was sparked in 1992 after the army prevented a fundamentalist party from taking power by calling off the second round of general elections it was poised to win.

Tuesday, August

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