West Must Help Algeria Peacefully End Its War US and Others Shouldn't Emulate France's Hard-Line Stance

Article excerpt

THE hijacking of an Air France jet by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and its violent ending represent a dangerous turn in Algeria's two-year-old civil war.

As devastation mounts (more than 30,000 people have been killed since the start of the civil war), Algerians have asked for the international community to get involved and help extract the country from its quagmire.

Previous attempts to draw international attention to Algeria, such as the recent Algerian opposition conference in Rome, were peaceful. Unfortunately, that conference failed because the Algerian military regime denounced it as a form of treason and a threat to Algerian sovereignty. The conference received little attention or support from the international news media or the international community. The failure of these peaceful attempts may have given way to flamboyant, suicidal acts, such as the hijackers' reported intention to blow up the Air France plane over Paris.

In the wake of this terrorism, the United States could be swayed from its position of endorsing reconciliation through dialogue to following France's hard-line support of the military dictatorship against a popular uprising. The US should resist this temptation. It must hold Algerian President Lamine Zeroual to his promise of allowing elections to go forward in early 1995. The military government may use the GIA's terrorist act to renege on its promise.

In Algeria, both the violent Armed Islamic Group and the legal opposition parties agree that Algeria's current military regime is illegal because it aborted the peaceful transfer of power through elections. The military took over after the 1991 election, which gave the Islamists a parliamentarian majority. The pretext was the Army's fear that Islamists would form a dictatorial Islamic state. In reality, since its independence from France in 1962, Algeria has seen only one form of dictatorship: the rule of the Algerian military.

The West should not view the current military regime as guarding democracy against a potential Islamic dictatorship. Western support for the military regime could lead to further attacks on Western targets.

Although the hijacking increased tension between France and the Algerian military government, France remains deeply involved in Algeria. The French government recently supplied the Algerian Army with new helicopters and night vision equipment to hunt the Islamists in the mountains. Yet France's apparent reversal, its temporary suspension of all passenger flights and maritime transport between the two countries, and its call to all French citizens in nonessential positions to leave Algeria, may worsen the crisis. The French message to the Islamists is that violence is the only way to push France into minimizing its relations with the Algerian military. This isn't a policy the US should emulate. …