De Gaulle minister 'allowed killing of 100,000 Algerians'

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The Independent Online

A minister who served under the former French president Charles de Gaulle is to be accused of "crimes against humanity" for allowing the massacre of 100,000 Algerians who took France's side in the colonial war of the 1950s and 1960s.

Pierre Messmer, 87, the last senior survivor of the governments of the period, will be formally accused in the next few days of complicity in a conscious decision by De Gaulle to "sacrifice" the so-called harkis rather than allow them to settle in France. M. Messmer was Minister of the Army from 1960-69.

A legal action will be brought against him by surviving harkis and their families and also bypied-noirs, or French settlers, thousands of whom were also murdered after France surrendered control to Algerian rebels in 1962.

The lawsuit coincides with the publication of a book that accuses De Gaulle of preventing, for racial reasons, all but a small fraction of the pro-French Algerian soldiers from being offered French homes.

The book - Un Mensonge Français (A French Lie) by Georges-Marc Benamou - says that the president took the view that there were already "too many Arabs" in France. M. Benamou quotes De Gaulle as describing the harkis as a "rabble, who did nothing useful and should be got rid of as soon as possible".

This version of events has caused an outcry among supporters of De Gaulle. They say that he was not a racist and did not deliberately sacrifice the harkis. The agreement with the rebel forces signed by the French government at Evian in 1962 insisted that there should be no reprisals. Responsibility for the massacres, De Gaulle's supporters say, rests with the Algerian people and the rebel leaders.

Harkis and their descendants have brought previous legal actions for crimes against humanity but this is the first time they have accused an individual French politician.

M. Messmer, a senior member of De Gaulle's Free French forces in the 1939-45 war, rejected the accusation yesterday. In an interview he said he had "regrets" but no sense of remorse and that his conscience was clear. "War, alas, is something that I know well and it's never clean," he said. "It's always blood, sweat and tears."

M. Benamou was close to the late president François Mitterrand, who was a long-time opponent of De Gaulle. He accuses the war-time saviour of France of being out of his depth in the negotiations to end the civil war in Algeria after he returned to power in 1958.

Instead of working towards a compromise, which would have permitted a timetable for the progressive decolonisation of Algeria, M. Benamou says that De Gaulle lost patience and surrendered control to the rebels. Despite the wording of the Evian agreement, it was obvious that tens of thousands of pro-French Algerians and their families would be murdered.

The author says De Gaulle and the French government refused pleas from French military chiefs for a systematic evacuation of those harkis who wished to move to France.