Algeria: EU team ready

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The Independent Online
The European Union last night was finalising plans for an immediate mission to Algeria to discuss the slaughter in the country, amid reports that as many as 400 people may have died in the latest massacres, close to Algiers, at the weekend.

After chairing a meeting of senior officials from the 15 EU states, Jeremy Greenstock, political director of the Foreign Office, said the delegation would "see what help" Europe could offer. It would follow the "troika" formula, with representatives from Luxembourg, Britain and Austria, respectively the past, present and next holders of the EU presidency. The team was "ready to go tomorrow," once it had permission from the Algerian authorities. The aim is to deliver a report to foreign ministers when they meet in Brussels on 26 January.

But though it looks certain to go ahead, the visit will be extremely delicate. "Fact-finding" is its real purpose - but no one can say as much so as not to infuriate the Algerian regime, for whom the very use of the term casts doubt on its insistence that the endless killing is anything less than 100 per cent the work of Islamic fundamentalist rebels.

In public at least, Algeria maintains the greatest service the EU could render would be to clamp down on exile groups.

In the latest carnage, at the village of Sidi Hamed south of Algiers, the government claims 103 people were murdered and 70 wounded. Reports in the normally tightly controlled local press suggest the death toll was more than 400. This would make it the bloodiest single massacre of the war, bringing to 1,700 the total of victims since the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began on 30 December.