French President Nicolas Sarkozy, visiting former colonies in North Africa on Tuesday, said France should recognise its colonial history but not repent for it.Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has long demanded France apologise for colonial-era crimes, greeted Sarkozy at the airport in Algiers. Later Tuesday, Sarkozy planned to head to Tunisia. This was his first presidential trip outside Europe.
Sarkozy is pushing for closer French ties to Algeria’s oil-and-gas giant Sonatrach, and pushing his project of a “Mediterranean Union” to boost cooperation on security and immigration among countries around the Mediterranean basin.
He also was expected to discuss joint efforts at fighting terrorism, as Algeria faces an upsurge in attacks by an Al Qaeda affiliate that also has threatened to target France.
France’s relations with Algeria â€” the jewel in the colonial crown before it won independence in 1962 â€” have remained tense since 2005, when Sarkozy’s conservative party championed a law citing the positive effects of colonialism. The contentious language was later removed, but many former colonies remain bitter, and on a 2006 visit to Algeria as interior minister, Sarkozy received a cold welcome.
“I am for a recognition of facts, not for repentance, which is a religious notion and has no place in state-to-state relations,” Sarkozy said in an interview with the Algerian newspapers El Watan and El Khabar published Tuesday.
“The younger generations, on both sides of the Mediterranean,… are not expecting their leaders to torture themselves in battling their guilt for the errors or mistakes of the past, because on this account, there would be a lot to do on both sides,” he was quoted as saying.
“That is not to say that we should cover up the past, since any grand nation… should come to terms with its history, with its light and its dark sides. “Certainly there were many dark sides, sufferings and injustices during the 132 years that France spent in Algeria, but there wasn’t only this,” he continued.
“The work of memory should continue,” Sarkozy said in the interview. He said he would push for cooperation between the two nations’ archives.
Sarkozy also told the newspapers he wanted a “connection” between France’s energy giants Gaz de France, Suez and Total and Algeria’s Sonatrach.
Sarkozy’s government was expected to decide soon on whether to go ahead with a merger of state-owned GDF and Suez. Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said other options â€” including a merger with other gas producers, notably Algerian ones â€” are being considered.
Sarkozy said he wanted Algeria to play a “key role” in the proposed Mediterranean Union, which would cooperate on sustainable development, security, energy and controlling the flow of migrants. Sarkozy also has pushed the idea of “co-development,” to keep potential migrants home with jobs in their own lands.
In Tunisia, Sarkozy could bring up human rights issues during talks with President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali. The small country, considered an example of progress and modernity in other spheres, is criticised by human rights organisations for its aggressive surveillance of citizens, allegedly torturing prisoners and muzzling the media.
Sarkozy has added a human rights deputy minister to his government, Rama Yade, who was expected to be part of his delegation.
Morocco, which raised its terror alert status Friday, fell off Sarkozy’s agenda, with officials there citing a calendar conflict.