Beheadings jeopardise peace moves in Algeria

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The Independent Online
MUSLIM extremists were reported to have decapitated 16 Algerian civilians on Tuesday night, throwing into doubt the value of the dialogue between the Algiers regime and the main Islamic movement.

The gruesome killings would have coincided with the freeing from prison of five leaders of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) whose release, it was hoped, would help end the civil insurrection which has claimed 10,000 lives in the past two and half years.

The independent Algerian daily el-Watan, usually well-informed on security matters, reported that 12 villagers from Sidi Bakhti were rounded up during the night, savagely mutilated and beheaded. Their bodies, drained of blood, were found the next morning by the security forces. Another victim was a 20-year- old woman who was kidnapped from her home in Medea, south of Algiers. The paper said her headless body was found a few hundred yards from her home.

The attacks are widely believed to have been carried out by members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which advocates the overthrow of the government by force. The GIA has been behind some of the more savage assaults of the past years, including the murder of foreigners and schoolgirls - acts with few parallels in the Arab world.

Advocates of a political solution cited this latest barbarity as emphasising the need for dialogue between the regime and the FIS. Many FIS officials have been unwilling to dissociate themselves from the GIA. The FIS representative in Washington, Anwar Haddam, referred to them as mujahedin or strugglers who should be brought back to the fold. It is also unclear how much authority the released FIS leaders exercise over their own supporters, let alone GIA and other groups frequently answerable to a local emir or religious leader.

The hardline generals who opposed dialogue with the FIS said concessions to the Islamists would only exacerbate the security situation. Redha Malek, the hardliner whose removal as prime minister in April opened the way to a dialogue with the FIS, said the decision to free its leaders would fuel violence.

'So far, measures of appeasement have only benefited terrorism . . . it is time to change tack by placing representatives of the ex-FIS before their responsibilities,' he said.

Talks between the government and opposition groups are due to resume on Tuesday.