Algeria leader to rule soon on amnesty extension

ALGIERS (Reuters) — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will decide soon whether or not to extend a six-month amnesty expiring on Monday for Islamist rebels who have fought for years to overthrow the government, state radio reported.

Bouteflika will act after studying a report on the results of the amnesty, part of a wider national reconciliation plan to bring a definite end to more than a decade of bloodshed in Africa’s second largest country, the radio reported.

Up to 300 guerrillas have surrendered since the measures came into force on February 28, but experts estimate several hundred more are still fighting in pockets of territory east of Algiers and in parts of the desert south.

Rebels launched an armed insurrection in 1992 after the then-military-backed authorities scrapped a parliamentary election in 1992 that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was set to win.

The authorities had feared an Iranian-style revolution.

The amnesty gives guerrillas still at large six months to surrender and win immunity from prosecution provided they did not commit massacres, rapes or bombings of public places.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, seen as a moderate Islamist, said shortly before the amnesty expired at midnight (2300 GMT) on Monday that it might be extended.

It was the second time in a week that Belkhadem, a close ally of Bouteflika, has suggested the amnesty will continue.

“It [the national reconciliation law] should not be limited in time or space,” Belkhadem told state television. “… National reconciliation is an action that must be assessed within the framework of the objective it had set, that is encouraging fraternity among Algerians, reconciling Algerians with each other and leaving behind the grudges and rancour.” The amnesty is being watched closely around the region because the stability of the country, a key gas supplier to Europe, is seen as crucial for the wider Mediterranean.

Several newspaper commentators have suggested an extension would be excessively lenient to the armed groups.

“As if six months wasn’t long enough! … A government that rolls out the red carpet for assassins who fear neither God nor man — that’s something you only find in horror films,” wrote Tayeb Belghiche in the influential El Watan daily.

As part of the reconciliation plan, 2,200 former rebels captured in the fighting have been freed from prison and members of the security forces were given blanket immunity from prosecution for any wrongdoing committed during the conflict. 

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