Extremists behead top FLN man

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Algiers (Agencies) - Muslim extremists kidnapped a leading Algerian politician and left his severed head in a railway station as the civil war brought a crisis in relations with France, its former colonial ruler.

Ahmed Kasmi, a member of the central committee of the National Liberation Front (FLN), was kidnapped last week at his mother's home and killed some time later. Only his head has been found, Algeria's official news agency APS said yesterday. It was discovered on Friday in Khemis Miliana railway station, 65 miles south-west of Algiers.

About 20 members of the FLN, the former sole ruling party, have been killed in the three years since an election Muslim fundamentalists were poised to win was cancelled.

The Algerian president, Liamine Zeroual, held talks at the weekend with his ambassador to France, Hocine Djoudi, who was recalled for consultations after President Francois Mitterrand proposed a European Union conference on the civil war. The proposal sparked angry exchanges as Algiers also called in the French ambassador, Michel Leveque, to say it would "not accept any interference" in its internal affairs.

State-controlled radio and television has lashed out at Mr Mitterrand. APS called his plan a "provocative end-of-reign initiative". Mr Mitterrand relinquishes the presidency in May.

His move is also likely to produce ill-will in France. The Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, indicated last night that the centre-right government had not been consulted. "You put me in a difficult situation because it's the President of the republic," Mr Pasqua said during a television interview. "I am a member of his government and at the same time I am not certain that we were a partner in this move."

President Mitterrand advocated a meeting to expand on the resolutions of a Rome conference last month between some of the larger Algerian opposition parties and the banned Islamic Salvation Front.

That meeting, which called for negotiations with the government and an end to violence, torture and the state of emergency, was boycotted and denounced by the Zeroual regime.