Deadly legacy of a colonial conflict: Julian Nundy in Montpellier unravels a murder that dates back to the Algerian war

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The Independent Online
THREE bullets killed Jacques Roseau. The man who confessed to the murder said they represented three letters: O, A and S.

They were grouped closely together in Roseau's chest, quite an achievement given the sharp recoil of the 11.43 pistol used. The angle at which they were fired as Roseau got behind the wheel of his hired car suggested that the killer was a tall man.

Regis Verhaeghe, the examining magistrate, took a second look at Gerald Huntz, 70, the man who had confessed to the murder in Montpellier on 5 March. He was 5ft 4in. He wore an orthopaedic corset and tri-focal spectacles. He had a crippled hand and was registered as a partial invalid. His confession began to look implausible, even if he had led police to the canal where the gun had been thrown. Mr Huntz is one of three former members of the Organisation de l'Armee Secrete, which grew out of the failed Algiers coup of 22 April 1961, still in custody on complicity charges.

The OAS vowed to keep Algeria French and embarked on a ferocious campaign of murders and bombings in Algeria and France, many in reprisal for attacks by the Algerian National Liberation Front. The war meant there could be no reconciliation between Europeans and Muslims in Algeria after independence was granted in 1962.

As a result, the pieds noirs, the one million European settlers in Algeria from countries such as Spain or Portugal, and many North African Jews, fled to France, joining those who had left Morocco and Tunisia in unhappy but less dramatic circumstances. The term pieds noirs or 'black feet' for the shoes they wore, was borrowed from the Levant where it was the name given to the Crusaders.

Among them was Jacques Roseau, a former OAS member. But he despaired at the organisation's violence and left. He set up Recours-France, a pied noir group seeking compensation for lost wealth in Algeria.

Algeria still haunts France with fears that Islamic fundamentalism may be exported, or that civil war or the establishment of an Islamic state would send waves of boat people across the Mediterranean. Roseau's killing showed that the traumas of the OAS period linger on in some hearts, inspiring what one Recours leader called 'criminal nostalgia'.

Roseau was 54 when he died. He was in Montpellier, where 20 per cent of the 200,000 inhabitants are reckoned to be of pied noir stock, for a Recours congress at which he was to call for what his killers regarded as treason: a Gaullist vote in the National Assembly elections that month.

Roseau had devoted himself to turning the pieds noirs into a political lobby. In 1981, he told them to vote for Francois Mitterrand, turning away from Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the outgoing centre-right president. In 1988, after the two-year Gaullist-led government of Jacques Chirac had voted new funds for the pieds noirs, Roseau called for a change of tack. Late last year he turned again to the Gaullist RPR party.

For Mr Huntz and the two others in custody, Marcel Navarro and Jean- Claude Lozano, this was intolerable collaboration with the heirs of a de Gaulle who had betrayed them and handed Algeria over to the Arabs, depriving them of their homes and colonial lifestyles. This added to his 'sins' of denouncing OAS violence when he was a member of the OAS's student wing, and advocating reconciliation with Algeria.

Roseau lived under the threat of violence. He was first punished for his opinions in 1962 when an OAS gunman made him sign a document renouncing political activity. In 1991 he was attacked in Nice. He lodged charges of assault and attempted kidnapping. He told friends that, if ever he were killed, it would be by the extreme right.

After his death, police rounded up 20 members of Usdifra, an organisation which recognises pieds noirs as only having 'withdrawn' from Algeria while other groups talk of their being 'repatriated'. Among them was its leader, Eugene Ibagnes. Only the three suspects picked up near Montpellier remain under arrest.

They were identified in part by a group of elderly men who play boules on the Rue du Mas-Lemasson where Roseau was shot after inspecting the hall where he was to address the congress. They had noticed the suspects hanging around during the week. What aroused their suspicion was that the newcomers, unlike other men of their generation, took no interest whatsoever in their boules and kept apart.

Mr Huntz and the two others were hardline OAS gunmen. Roger Degueldre, Mr Huntz's commander, was shot for treason. Since those days, Mr Huntz had always kept a gun. Bullets similar to those which killed Jacques Roseau were found at Mr Navarro's home. Mr Lozano admits being at the scene of the crime.

The far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen has denied any involvement with Usdifra, stressing its own links with the Conseil National Superieur des Rapatries (CNSR), another pied noir group. But Mr Le Pen spoke at a meeting at Mr Ibagnes' home in Var department in November 1991.

At a CNSR rally in Nice in February last year, where Mr Le Pen was the guest speaker, the most vibrant speech was by a young man whose father had served a prison sentence for OAS activities. The young man was born in France. He had never known Algeria or that colonial lifestyle. To judge by the forensic evidence, the man who fired three bullets at Jacques Roseau, too, was a son fighting the battles of his father.

After Beregovoy, page 27