LETTER:Europe's role in bringing about reconciliation in Algeria

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From Dr Salah Ezz

Sir: Your call "for a concerted European and Arab initiative to identify (Algerian) moderates in the government and Islamic groups" to establish dialogue (leading article, 16 March) should be commended. However, there is no need to waste more time in searching for moderates.

The events of the past three bloody years demonstrate that the fanatic "eradicators" in the army-backed government are the ones in control. Their termination of the ill-fated dialogue in Algiers last October was an act that compelled a number of opposition leaders to hold a fruitful conference recently in Rome.

The "eradicators" remember the slaughter of thousands of Harkis (collaborators with French occupation) soon after the French left in 1962. It would be naive to expect them to engage in, or even allow, a dialogue that might eventually compromise their power. Therefore, the stick should be the suspension of all economic and military aid, without which, many concede, the government cannot survive. The carrot should be in the form of guarantees, especially from France, that such characters as Generals Lamari, Nizar and Cherif will be allowed, if they so choose, to settle in France with their families.

The prominent figures of the Rome meeting, who make up the most promising group of moderates, should be encouraged to set up a transitional ruling assembly which will be ready to assume responsibility once the present government relinquishes power. Such an assembly should enjoy the consent of all sections of Algerian society, who are fed up with the savagery of both the government and extremists.

Extremism is fed by cruelty and injustice. Once the "eradicators" are out of power, the extremists' zeal and motives will fade away. With the gradual return to normality and stability, elections can be held under EU or UN supervision.

The most crucial factor will be how much influence France can continue to exert on the EU's Algeria policy. There are those who claim that Algeria was excluded from Nato's list of North African states to hold security dialogue with because of the French insistence of leaving Algeria to them. If this happens to be the case, then what you describe as a "last chance" may be indefinitely lost and the stability of the whole region may be gravely undermined.

Yours faithfully,

SALAH EZZ

Botley, Oxfordshire

16 March

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