Algerian soldiers accused

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

ALGIERS (Reuter) - About 30 Muslim fundamentalists, most of them members of the armed forces, appeared before an Algerian military court yesterday facing charges punishable by death.

The trial, in the town of Ouargla, began behind closed doors to preserve military secrecy, the official APS news agency said. The court rejected a demand by a defence lawyer for the hearing to be held in public.

El Watan newspaper said officers were among the accused, who were alleged to have 'deserted their barracks to join the (fundamentalist) underground' and others who 'were plotting inside and maintaining links' with the Armed Islamic Movement. State radio has said that the charges include conspiracy against state security and violation of military law. More than 20 of the accused are from the armed forces, it added.

Islamic militants are blamed for killing more than 210 members of the security forces since a state of emergency was declared last February. The decree was issued after unrest erupted following the authorities' cancellation of a general election in which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had taken a commanding lead. The FIS was later outlawed.