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19 Algerians sentenced to death for conspiracy

Algiers (Reuter, AFP) - An Algerian military court yesterday sentenced to death 19 men, most of them members of the armed forces, for setting up an armed group and conspiring against state interests, state radio said. Only four of those given death sentences, normally carried out by firing squad, were in custody for the 12-day trial of 79 people, including eight civilians. The trial was held behind closed doors at Bechar, a town in the Sahara desert 470 miles south-west of Algiers. Press reports claim the accused were led by an army officer called Chouchane, who had links with an Islamic fundamentalist leader.

The French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, was due to arrive yesterday to patch up strained relations with Algeria's embattled government. The government is locked in conflict with Islamic fundamentalists and is suspicious of the French stance towards this group. Diplomatic sources said the two-day visit aimed to renew dialogue in all spheres of co-operation and would make good the past year's widening gap in communication acknowledged by both sides. It is the first French ministerial visit since the assassination last June of President Mohamed Boudiaf who returned from exile in January to take power.