Extremists in Algeria kill seven foreigners

THE assassination of four Russian contract workers, a Romanian and two people from former Yugoslavia in Algiers, yesterday brings to 14 the number of foreigners killed in Algeria in a week - more than the total number of Western hostages murdered in Lebanon in 10 years.

A total of 51 foreigners have now been killed in Algeria in 10 months, many of them virtually decapitated when Islamic militants cut their throats. Yet, the world continues largely to ignore Algeria's civil conflict, which has claimed over 4,000 lives in two-and-a-half years.

Although the seven leading industrial nations called for 'dialogue' in Algeria at their Naples summit last Friday, and President Bill Clinton said that he was 'very disturbed' at the situation in the world's tenth largest country, the Algerian tragedy still evokes little horror outside its borders. However, the Armed Islamic Group which went to war with the Algerian government after the suspension of democratic elections in 1992 - a poll which Islamists were certain to win - seems intent on forcing the world to take note of the catastrophe.

The shooting of the Russians, former Yugoslavs and the Romanian, and the throat-slashing of seven Italian seamen on their ship in Jenjen harbour last week, followed a visit to Europe by the Algerian Prime Minister, Mokdad Sifi, seeking financial help from the European Union, especially France.

But Europeans doubt the Algerian government's ability to smother the conflict. Mr Sifi's Paris appeal to 'moderate' Islamist opponents of the government to start negotiations went unanswered. The old National Liberation Front, which formed the governments of post-independence Algeria, stated at the weekend that violence had become so excessive that it doubted any administration could control it.

Large areas of Algeria fall under Islamic control at night. Over the past month, the severed heads of alleged government 'collaborators' have been found in Algiers, one of them outside a mosque at Kouba, where yesterday's murders took place. The Algerian authorities say they have arrested two men involved in the killing of the Italians; but they have made such claims before, and the assassinations continued.

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