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Immigrants From Algeria Complicate France's Ties to Its Former Colony

FRANCE's stake in the Algerian civil conflict runs deeper than diplomatic ties or oil and gas contracts. Until 1962, Algeria was a colony of France. Algerian workers fueled postwar French industrial growth, and many stayed on to raise families.

Whatever goes on in Algeria is felt keenly and personally in France. Consider two cases:

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* Kadidja chose her own name three years ago, when she started wearing a head scarf, or veil.

``It was the name of the first wife of the Prophet [Muhammad],'' she says softly. ``I thought the name was beautiful.''

Many women in Paris wear scarves against the damp December cold. Kadidja's is wrapped carefully around her hair, folded across her neck, and tucked into the collar of a large coat, which, along with a heavy skirt, touches the top of her shoes.

As a child, Kadidja (then Christine) grew up as a Roman Catholic and worked in a travel agency until she met her husband, an Algerian engineer who came to Paris when he could not find work in Algiers. Her father is a native Algerian who fought with the French in Vietnam. He moved to France during Algeria's war of independence from France because ``he couldn't bear to fight against his own people,'' she says.

She represents what many French fear most about Algeria's latest civil conflict: that it will encourage the spread of Islam in France. Wearing a veil has been outlawed in French public schools, and 79 girls - mostly Algerian - already have been expelled for refusing to comply.

``No one forced me to take the veil,'' she says. ``I got married, and I gradually decided to do it. It has nothing to do with politics. When I wear a veil, men don't come on to me in the street. It's less vulgar.''

Her new life has not been easy. She lives with her husband, a two-year-old child, and a new baby in an apartment that is about ten square yards. Last week, her husband was stopped on the street by police and given a month to leave France when he couldn't produce a valid passport. Kadjida is still deciding whether to go with him.

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``You can't go to Algeria without money, or a home, or a way to start over,'' she says.

* Ali (not his real name) came to France from Algiers to avoid being drafted into military service. ``I don't ever want to be put into the situation of having to fire on other Algerians,'' he says.

He exemplifies a second French concern: that civil war will spur a new migration to France.

Military service used to be a good option for young Algerians. ``The military paid 9,000 dinars [US$225] a month, while being a doctor paid only 7,000,'' he says. ``But once armed Islamic groups forbade military service and started randomly killing soldiers, many Algerians lost interest.''

This month, Algeria's military regime passed a new law requiring students to begin military service immediately after completing their education.

For many, finding a way to study abroad is the only way out. The process used to be simple: ``You'd apply at the French consulate in the morning, and have an answer in the afternoon,'' Ali says. Now dossiers must be completed in France and include a guarantee of lodging, a social security card, and a signed authorization of admission to a French university.

When Ali's friends can't get a visa to come to France to complete their dossiers, he does it for them, including posing as the applicant in admission interviews.

Recently, he says he successfully interviewed for admission for advanced study in a field he knew nothing about.

``It may save a life,'' he says.

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