Algerian soldiers protest over '40 years of oppression'

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The Independent Online

A group of "Harkis" ­ Algerians who fought on the French side in their country's civil war ­ will go to court in Paris on Thursday to protest against 40 years of oppression by both nations.

A group of "Harkis" ­ Algerians who fought on the French side in their country's civil war ­ will go to court in Paris on Thursday to protest against 40 years of oppression by both nations.

The eight former colonial soldiers, survivors of a "forgotten" army of more than 200,000, will allege that unnamed officials in Paris and Algiers committed "crimes against humanity" in their treatment of the harkis after Algeria won its independence in March 1962.

They say that their aim is not so much to gain financial compensation as to regain their "pride" and establish their place in history.

The Harkis were disarmed by the French and abandoned to their fate when France withdrew from Algeria. As many as 150,000 are estimated to have been massacred by the Algerian revolutionary forces, many of them tortured before their throats were cut or heads cut off.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 Harkis managed to flee to France, despite efforts by the French authorities to prevent them from doing so. Although they were French citizens and former French soldiers, many of them were locked up in internment camps with their families.

The Harkis, and their wives and children, lived in primitive conditions in the camps for more than a decade. Several families shared one outside lavatory; showers cost 50 centimes each; electricity was cut off at 10pm; and all inmates ­ including children ­ were forced to salute the French flag once a day. Conditions were only improved after a series of revolts by the children of Harkis in the 1970s.

Even so, many Harkis and their descendants were not granted official recognition and citizenship from the French until the late 1990s.

The Harki national liaison committee has decided to bring tomorrow's case against "X" or "persons unknown" because of what it claims to be a series of further humiliations in the past two years.

Several hundred Harkis asked for the right to place a memorial wreath to their dead comrades at the tomb of the unknown soldier below the Arc de Triomphe in November 1999. They were refused permission by the French authorities.

On a visit to France last year, Adelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian President, compared the harkis to the French who collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War.

The Harkis are also angry at the controversy ignited in France by a book by the retired French general Paul Aussaresses admitting to the torture of Algerian revolutionaries. The Harkis were furious that their suffering at the hands of the triumphant independence forces was never mentioned.

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