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Help for Algeria

Algeria's government would do well to take up offers of outside assistance to investigate and end the senseless violence afflicting its people. In the past week, the European Union, the United States, and the Arab League have all voiced concern and a desire to help.

The government in Algiers, however, has been prickly about such offers, particularly from Western sources. This edginess does nothing to dispel doubts abroad, and inside Algeria, about the regime's commitment to stop the killing that has taken more than 1,000 lives just since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Dec. 30. Over the past six years, insurrection and terrorism have claimed some 65,000 Algerians.

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The murderers typically attack without warning, cutting down civilians, including women and children. Religious slogans may be shouted, but these acts fit no definition of religion, politics, or even warfare.

What can outside involvement do?

First, it serves notice to all sides in Algeria that continued massacres of civilians are abhorrent to the international community. It also lets average Algerians know that the wider world cares about their plight. Algeria doesn't exist in a vacuum. It depends on exports of oil, natural gas, and agricultural products to Europe. Algerian emigrants are a major consideration.

Second, fact-finding efforts by the EU or another objective agency could throw needed light on the dynamics within Algeria. If things are as the government asserts - with blame falling on benighted religious extremists - what do officials have to worry about? Their country's sovereignty is not at stake. Today's world presents many examples of international efforts to help with national crises.

Third, outside pressure might be the only way to bring Algerians together to bridge their differences and arrive at a new vision of governance for a society that now lacks any such vision. The US, in particular, could be instrumental in advancing this agenda. It carries less imperialistic baggage than EU nations like France or Britain, and its strength is respected. A model for political accommodation within Algeria already exists, worked out by a 1993 conference in Rome attended by the various Algerian parties. Washington should help revive that plan.


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