Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected by acclimation (as he was unopposed) as Algeria’s new President in April of 1999. Since taking office, Bouteflika has offered amnesty and has released thousands of Islamist rebels from prison. Bouteflika was successful in securing a truce with the Islamic Salvation Army and received the support of the front’s “Historic Chief,” (Algerians like to refer to their leaders as such) Abassi Madani.
In early July 1999, the militants freed consisted of men and women who had sheltered or financed armed extremists, not those guilty of violent crimes or rape. These recent events provide a glimmer of hope that the savage war may soon end. Some analysts, however, remain skeptical regarding the future of Algeria’s internal politics. This skepticism was fueled in August 1999 and January 2000 when terror attacks occurred in different parts of the country (although not in the capital, Algiers). The renewed violence waves came following new reconciliation measures adopted by the President.
In late 1999, Algeria’s new Prime Minister, Ahmed Benbitour, 53, chose a group of technocrats to head the important oil, finance, and trade portfolios in his new government. The makeup of the new cabinet, which is headed by a former Finance Minister and consists of various senior ministers with business backgrounds, is President Bouteflika's technique of signaling to the local and international business communities that Algeria is serious about implementing promised economic reforms.
Meanwhile, on the international scene, Bouteflika has been trying to improve ties with Morocco and France -- two strategic partners with whom Algeria has had turbulent relations in recent years. Algeria hopes that warming ties with these regional neighbors will send a positive signal to the international business community that its environment has become more investment-friendly.
Nevertheless, a hyper-militant Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, composed primarily of original Afghan war veterans and those schooled by them, refuses to surrender arms or cease activities. The group is believed to be responsible for the worst massacres and other outrages both prior to and since the Islamic Salvation Army ceased active operations in 1997.
These armed groups in Algeria issue death threats against civilians through notices sent to the media and posted in public places, or telephone calls and letters delivered to individuals. Targets of these death threats include civil servants, relatives of members of the security forces, journalists and artists.
The internal disorder commenced when in January 1992, the Algerian military abolished parliamentary elections after it became clear that Islamic groups were the clear victors. This cancellation sparked a nearly decade-long violent confrontation between the military and Islamists.
In the last eight years, the conflict is estimated to have claimed the lives of over 70,000 people. Islamists have targeted not only security services but also civilians (elderly men, women, and children), journalists and intellectuals as well as foreigners. Roughly 130 foreigners have been murdered since the end of 1993. For foreigners, it is dangerous to be outdoors at all in Algiers unless they are accompanied by someone who knows the city well. The last foreigner to be killed in Algiers was a Bulgarian entrepreneur who had lived there for many years. He had his throat cut while walking in a public park in the northern section of the city.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)