About 5,500 armed Islamic militants took advantage of an amnesty law to turn themselves in to the Algerian authorities, Algerian newspapers reported Tuesday, citing an Amnesty International statement.
A thousand of those amnestied had been fighters with the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) and the Islamic League for Preaching and Holy War (LIDD). Both groups have been observing a ceasefire since October 1997.
Others benefited from public prosecutors' decisions, Algerian officials told an Amnesty mission in May during a fact-finding mission to the country, where Islamic extremist insurgency erupted in 1992.
Algerian authorities have not presented a definitive figure for the number of former Islamic fighters amnestied under the "civil concord" law introduced by president Abdelaziz Bouteflika as part of efforts to end the conflict.
The amnesty applied from six months from July 13 last year to January 13. After that date, Bouteflika warned security forces would crack down without mercy on extremists.
Amnesty's memo, addressed to the government, called on Bouteflika to allow a top-level delegation from the human rights organization to return to the country to develop a dialogue with the authorities.
The fact-finding mission sent to Algeria by the human rights watchdog group last May was the target of fierce criticism from the government press and leading political figures at the time.
It was the group's first visit to Algeria since being thrown out in May 1996 for denouncing severe human rights abuses committed during the civil war that began in 1992 after the cancellation of elections the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was set to win.
A number of militant groups, including the hardline Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), rejected the Bouteflika's amnesty and have continued attacks against civilian and military targets.
The conflict has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives -- ALGIERS (AFP)
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