Algerian Islamists turn back to politics

TALKS between militant Islamic parties and the Algerian government this week have raised hopes that the fundamentalists might be brought back into political life, averting civil war. The talks took place after Abassi Madani, the jailed leader of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), offered the government 'a truce' last week.

Five banned Islamic groups met for 10 hours with government officials on Monday and the military government said the talks had produced 'very positive results'. A new round of negotiations was set for 20 September.

Yesterday, however, it emerged that the Armed Islamic Group, the GIA - which refused to take part in the talks - had carried out a threat to destroy educational establishments in Algeria. About 20 Islamic militants attacked a technical college in Blida, south of Algiers, on Saturday, destroyed equipment and set fire to dormitories, Al-Watan newspaper reported yesterday.

On the eve of the new school year, the GIA had threatened universities and secondary schools and said that, even in primary schools, girls should not be allowed to do gymnastics, female teachers should wear the veil and all music should be banned. It threatened to destroy schools and attack staff if its demands were not met.

The GIA has ruled out 'all dialogue, truce or reconciliation' with the government.

Some 6,000 people are estimated to have been killed in violence since the FIS was banned in January 1992 when the government scrapped elections at which the FIS was emerging as the winner.

Mr Madani, who is imprisoned in Blida, handed over a letter last week to an adviser to President Liamine Zeroual, agreeing to the President's call for the FIS to respect 'the constants of the nation' laid down by the government. These include respect for the constitution, the recognition of Islam as the state religion, the rejection of violence to achieve political ends and political pluralism.

The five Islamic groups gave the government a 14-point list of demands, including the release of Mr Madani and other fundamentalist leaders, the closure of internment camps holding around 1,000 militants and the end of bans on political parties and newspapers.

It called for the death penalty to be suspended and for an end to special courts for terrorism and subversion as well as for an eventual end to the state of emergency which has been in force since February 1992. Mihoub Mihoubi, the presidential spokesman, said the talks had lifted 'a major psychological barrier'.

Three non-Islamic political parties, including the Front for Socialist Forces, boycotted Monday's talks because they insist on a resumption of the electoral process as a pre-condition for co-operation. They also rule out talks with Islamic groups.

In France, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the top anti-terrorism magistrate, charged eight people for ties to a terrorist organisation on Monday. The eight were among 30 North Africans detained in Paris, Chartres, Orleans and Avignon after an attack on a Marrakesh hotel on 24 August in which two Spanish tourists were killed. Two of the alleged attackers captured by the Moroccan police were French and the arrests came after police checked out their connections in France.

French judicial sources say some detainees said they belonged to a network whose aim was to spread Islamic militancy to Morocco.

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