Sabotage hits Algiers

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Tunis (Reuter) - Massive power cuts, believed to have been caused by sabotage, have blacked out parts of Algiers where a food depot was blown up and burnt in an attack by 40 armed men, media and diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The Algerian state radio quoted the electricity company as saying power cuts in Algiers and the neighbouring region of Blida, 30 miles south of the capital, and both the headquarters of the main military regional and a Muslim fundamentalist area, would last up to four days.

Cuts were being rotated between areas and life remained normal, the radio said. It did not explain what it described as a "dangerous incident" but two Algerian newspapers said Muslim guerrillas had blown up power pylons. "An armed group has hit a high tension power line feeding Algiers," the daily Tribune said, quoting unnamed sources.

El Watan, generally well-informed on security issues, said five power pylons were blown up near Zemmoura 30 miles west of Algiers. Residents said that different districts were suffering blackouts in rotation.

"The cause is not absolutely clear but it seems to have done a lot of damage and is having a cascading effect," one Western diplomat said yesterday.

The main oil and gas export facilities, which are in other areas and on which the north African country relies for more than 90 per cent of its foreign currency, were not affected.

Algerian television reported overnight that a big food warehouse supplying Algiers, Boumerdes to the east and Tipasa to the west was destroyed by armed men who planted bombs and set it ablaze. It said an unidentified group of some 40 attackers planted the bombs throughout the building.

Muslim guerrillas fighting the army-backed Algerian government have been blamed for many past sabotage attacks on schools, state companies and telecommunications installations. Algeria says more than 10,000 people have been killed in the civil strife since January 1992 when the authorities cancelled a general election that Islamists were poised to win.