During the final days of 1999, President Abdulaziz Bouteflika appointed Ahmed Benbitour as Algeria's new Prime Minister. Benbitour 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, represents President Bouteflika's method of signaling to the local and international business communities that Algeria is serious about implementing promised economic reforms. Still, Algeria's investment climate will remain crippled as long as domestic violence continues to wreak havoc on this North African nation.
In mid-January, Algeria deployed thousands of troops in potential trouble spots, in anticipation of the impending deadline to a government amnesty for Muslim rebels. At the time, not all opposition groups had accepted the government's reprieve and thus, President Abdulaziz Bouteflika threatened to launch a brutal war against those who refused to surrender.
Some historical opposition groups accepted the President’s amnesty offer. The AIS, the military wing of the state's largest opposition movement, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) dissolved itself. This move to cease hostilities followed Bouteflika's announcement of a blanket pardon for its roughly 3,000 fighters. While Algerian authorities presented AIS's decision to disband itself as a political victory, it is unlikely to have a substantial effect on the level of violence within this torn nation. The AIS had already been observing a de facto truce since mid-1997. Moreover, the President's proposed amnesty was categorically rejected by the more radical Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which can field 5,000-7,000 rebels between them and have been responsible for most of the recent carnage.
Violence and atrocities continued to inflict Algeria during the first half of 2000. The final weekend of May marked one of the most gruesome episodes of political violence in the nation’s recent history. Twelve people, including five members of the same family, were murdered. Moslem rebels sliced the throats of three children and their parents in Draa Smar, 70 kilometers south of the capital, Algiers. Nearby, rebels shot dead two other civilians at a fake roadblock.
In response, government troops killed five guerillas in a gun battle, when they attacked a rebel hideout in the Saida Mountains. Twenty other members of the “Appeal and Struggle” radical faction fled to a nearby forest for refuge. This opposition party and the Armed Islamic Group are the two remaining movements still bent on violence. This episode of violence is merely one example of the brutality that continues to inflict this Arab state.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)
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