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A Way Out for Algeria?

A truce called by one of Algeria's Islamic factions could be a lifeline for a country entrapped by violence. In Algeria, as in other parts of the world, the killing is sustained by extremists who abhor compromise. Any hint of moderation, therefore, is cause for hope.

Since the truce offer was made public, violence has again surged. In one of the worst incidents, 11 women teachers from a village school were murdered in front of their students. More recently, a wedding party was attacked.

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Such acts defy reason, politics, and humanity. Though the source of violence is often masked by Algeria's political cross currents, most such acts have been attributed to the shadowy Armed Islamic Group. Its tactics have nothing to do with Islam, and seem geared only to sow hatred and anarchy. The Army's offensive against the group is intensifying - as is that group's campaign of terror.

At the other end of Algeria's political spectrum are extreme elements in the Army that eschew any negotiation with their antagonists and are themselves suspected of colluding in some of the murderous episodes.

Into this tense arena comes the truce flag waved by the military arm of the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS. Six years ago the front was on the verge of winning a national election when the Army nullified the voting. A military-backed government, now led by Liamine Zeroual, has ruled since.

If Mr. Zeroual takes the truce seriously, the hard-core perpetrators of violence might be pushed to the political fringes. Algeria needs a middle ground where those who want an end to violence and a start for economic and social normalcy can congregate. Zeroual, however, has denied reports that he has been talking with the FIS. Campaigning for local council elections later this month has begun, and the FIS remains banned.

That state of affairs shouldn't be permanent. The FIS truce offer should be seen in the context of broader regional trends. Egypt's Islamists have been moderating as well. There may be some realization that violence is not a viable political tactic, nor a legitimate expression of faith.

To date, neither the former colonial power, France, nor the UN has had much success with mediation in Algeria. But their efforts should continue. The United States, too, should offer to help foster negotiations. Stability in the Mediterranean region is, after all, an important US interest.

Ultimately, the Algerians themselves will have to decide they've had enough of the horror. But they can be helped to that conclusion.

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