Algeria's old warriors demand the whole truth: Former FLN comrades of the murdered president gathered at his grave in an Algiers cemetery to pay their last respects. Robert Fisk was there

'WE DEMAND to know the whole truth about the assassination of our martyr Mohamed Boudiaf - raise your hands with me and say you want the truth.'

The words floated over the pile of brown clay and dying wreaths under which lay the last mortal remains of Algeria's assassinated president. And the anciens combattants of the old FLN, the gunmen and bombers and couriers who more than 30 years ago freed their land from General Massu's paras, raised their right hands by the grave and said, firmly and loudly: 'I do.'

Age confers dignity and gentleness upon the most ruthless men and women. White-haired, head bowed in homage to his dead leader, Omar Boudaoud looked like just another old soldier, the kind of stooped figure you might see by an English war memorial any Remembrance Sunday. Yet Mr Boudaoud was the man who led the FLN inside France, who organised the blowing-up of fuel dumps, the derailing of a train at Cagnes-sur-Mer, the killing of four gendarmes in Lyons and who raised pounds 500,000 a year for the FLN.

Can men with so bloody an inheritance expect the truth? There was Abu Bakr Belkaid, for instance, freedom fighter, fellow inmate with Boudiaf of Fresnes prison in 1956, mourning the lost opportunities of Algeria. 'Things are more serious now,' he said. 'President Boudiaf was clean - he had been in exile, far from the establishment, before he became our leader. He came here to modernise our country, to give us a clear path. Yes, I hope we will know the truth about his martyrdom. But will we?'

Mme Boudiaf was there; she who said only last week that she did not think 'for a single moment' that the Islamic Salvation Front had murdered her husband. Cloaked in green and white, face hidden behind dark glasses, she stood before the pile of earth, then embraced Mr Belkaid and sobbed in his arms.

There were tombs in the same row as Boudiaf's grave, each containing an honoured warrior. Their names were inscribed without comment or verbal homage, as if they had died old and revered. You needed memory and a history book to understand the meaning.

There was Larbi Ben M'Hidi (murdered by French paratroopers in March 1957). There was Ferhat Abbas (exiled by his own FLN). There was Abane Ramdane (brutally murdered, probably strangled, in 1957 by his FLN colleagues near Tangiers). There was Belkacem Krim (FLN Evian negotiator, strangled in Germany in 1970, probably on Boumedienne's orders). With so many bullet-smashed bones and broken necks inside these graves, could anyone expect to learn the truth about el-Alia cemetery's newest martyr?

Of course, those who gathered in the graveyard yesterday had been brave as well as savage men. But their legacy of fratricidal bloodshed gave to their patriotism something infinitely pathetic, even tragic. Beneath the trees opposite Boudiaf's grave, Yamina Benacer of the 'Association des Militants de la Federation de France pour le FLN' was handing round a petition. An arms courier between 1954 and 1962 - so patriotic she returned to Algeria in 1963, so Francophone she cannot read Arabic - she asked each ancien combattant to sign his name, wartime rank and address on a sheet of paper headed: 'We want to discover the truth about the assassination of Mohamed Boudiaf.'

Behind the gravestones was a clutch of soldiers, a few blue-uniformed policemen and a scattering of unshaven young men in jeans holding sub-machine-guns, ammunition clips in their trouser belts - for security, of course. Just like the bodyguards who protected Boudiaf in Annaba last month, one of whom shot him in the back.

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