ANALYSIS-Algeria's security tied to political freedom
Bouteflika hopes to use third term to end violence
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika hopes to use his likely third term to end the
violence still troubling his oil producing state, but can he do
that without granting a political voice to former rebels?
Bouteflika is expected to win a April 9 presidential vote by
a comfortable margin -- recognition, his supporters say, of his
achievements in restoring stability after a decade-long civil
Offshoots of the Islamist rebel groups that waged that
conflict are now affiliated to al Qaeda and mount sporadic
attacks in Algeria, an OPEC member country of 34 million that
lies on the doorstep of the European Union.
Some believe Bouteflika's refusal to allow a return to
politics by the leaders of the defunct Islamic Salvation Front
(FIS) who fought the state in the 1990s undermines efforts to
persuade the mostly younger remaining rebels to disarm.
The political ambition of the influential, middle-aged
former rebels is undimmed. But any attempt by them to stand
against Bouteflika in the vote would have been blocked by the
government, analysts say.
The former leaders have renounced violence and were granted
amnesties under 72-year-old Bouteflika's "national
The amnesty offered social rights to former rebels and
compensation for their families, and some of them have gone on
to prosper as businessmen and traders.
But the amnesty did not specify if they would be allowed to
enter politics. No law exists to stop the former rebel leaders
taking part in elections but over the years efforts by top FIS
figures to run as candidates or form parties have in effect been
blocked by the government.
"Obviously, not opening the political field to former
Islamic militants will discourage al Qaeda's rebels to accept
Bouteflika's amnesty offer," Boualem Ghomrassa, a security
expert with Algerian daily El Khabar, told Reuters.
Four former leaders of the remnant insurgency who
surrendered in 2005 and 2008 urged the remaining rebels on
Thursday to join them.
"In the recent past, we were your companions. Our hearts are
with you, though we know nothing of your current situation,"
they said in a joint statement sent to media including Reuters.
"We invite you to join us and return to your families, who
are waiting for you. Dear brothers and friends, don't miss this
Bouteflika seems unlikely to make concessions to former
rebels in the near future. With the security forces more firmly
in control than in previous years and an election win all but
assured, he is under little pressure to give ground.
He told hundreds of voters in the city of Tiaret last month
that the former rebels should stop complaining.
"Those who have attacked the people, tarnished Algeria's
image abroad, committed crimes and massacres against women and
children, must acknowledge their actions and ask the people for
forgiveness," Bouteflika said.
"The doors of national reconciliation remain open,"
Bouteflika added, referring to limited amnesty provisions.
Allowing the former rebels to re-enter political life would
be a hugely symbolic additional step because it was precisely
this issue which triggered the violent conflict.
Algeria plunged into chaos in 1992 after the military-backed
authorities decided to cancel legislative elections a radical
Islamic party was poised to win.
In the decade of violence that followed, up to 150,000
people were killed.
LAYING DOWN ARMS
Bouteflika helped steer the country out of the spiral of
violence through a combination of uncompromising security
measures and an amnesty to those rebels who were not deemed
responsible for the worst acts of violence.
The violence has now declined sharply, though rebels who
describe themselves as the al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic
Maghreb plant bombs and fight gun battles with police.
The former rebels -- who deny any connection to the violence
underway now -- said they were angry that Bouteflika's national
reconciliation process did little to give them a political
"If you want to convince al Qaeda militants to lay down arms
you must provide guarantees that the political space is not
closed, but today Bouteflika is closing it until an unknown
date," said Madani Mezrag, former chief of the FIS's armed wing.
That view was echoed by another former rebel leader,
Abdelhak Layada, a founder of the now disbanded Armed Islamic
Group (GIA), blamed by the authorities for a series of massacres
during the 1990s.
"We do support Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but in return we want
to be allowed to have normal political activity. Closing the
political arena is not fair and it is dangerous too," Layada
But Mounir Boudjemaa, a specialist on security issues and
editor of the Liberte daily, said access to political life was
of little consequence to the al Qaeda rebels.
"They are not really interested in politics but rather in a
rescue door to come back to society. And the rescue door is
still open for them," he said.
By Lamine Chikhi, ALGIERS, April 6 (Reuters) -