Bus massacre by Algerian rebels

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The Independent Online
Tunis (Reuter) - Suspected Muslim guerrillas, in a fresh escalation of violence, shot dead 11 people on a bus in the eastern Algerian town of Batna, the official Algerian news agency APS reported yesterday. Six passengers were also wounded in Tue sday's attack at the mountain town some 200 miles east of Algiers The area is known as an Islamist fiefdom and was the scene of some of the worst riots which erupted in the months after the Algerian President, Chadli Benjedid, resigned and the army-backed authorities cancelled a general election which fundamentalists

were poised to win. More than 40 people were killed in and around Batna when the authorities arrested a mullah in a clampdown on prayer leaders, stirring anti-government fervour among supporters of the now-outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).

If those killed on Tuesday were Algerian nationals, the attack would be the first publicly reported mass killing on a bus not involving foreigners, and could signal a switch of tactics in the conflict in which Algeria acknowledges 11,000 people have beenkilled. Foreign and independent sources put the toll at up to 30,000.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, gave a cautious welcome yesterday to a draft peace proposal drawn up by Algeria's opposition parties, including Islamic fundamentalists, at talks hosted by the Catholic Church in Rome on Tuesday. The FIS, the former ruling National Liberation Front and the Socialist Forces Front took part, as well as smaller Islamic parties.

The full proposal, which calls for a ceasefire to enable talks on a return to democracy, is due to be published today, once it has been approved by the FIS leadership.