Europe Pushes Moderation To Stem Algeria's Civil War
EUROPEANS are looking for new answers to end Algeria's bitter civil conflict that, with the recent hijacking of a French airliner, is spilling over onto the Continent.
The refusal of the Algerian government and its armed Islamic opponents to take up a Jan. 13 peace proposal sets back hopes for a negotiated solution to the war between the military-backed government and Islamic extremists.
The plan was drafted in Rome by eight Algerian opposition parties, and marked the first sign of a credible democratic solution to the violence, which diplomats say is claiming 1,000 lives a week.
On Jan. 23, the European Union's Council of Ministers renewed calls for negotiation ``in the spirit of this dialogue,'' and called on all participants in Algerian political life to ``pursue the concrete ideas that may arise from it.''
The Rome plan called for an end to killings, torture, and extra-judicial arrests; release of some 10,000 political prisoners; legalization of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS); and a transitional government leading up to new elections. It was endorsed by the FIS, the former ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), the Front for Socialist Forces (FFS), and five other opposition groups. Together these parties won 85 percent of the vote in December 1991 elections, which were subsequently voided by the military-backed government.
``This time a barrier was broken,'' FIS representative Anwar Haddam told reporters after the Rome meeting. ``The generals have always set democrats and Islamists against each other. But this time, the three fronts [FIS, FLN, FFS] are together.''
The French government, which distanced itself from the first round of talks among members of the Algerian opposition in Rome last November, supported this plan, as did Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United States.
Army leaders and government officials immediately denounced the Rome plan as a ``nonevent.''
Terrorist groups also balked at the plan. Faxes sent to Western news agencies Jan. 15 signed by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which claimed responsibility for hijacking the French airliner on Christmas Eve, initially seemed to endorse the plan. But on Jan. 22, the GIA and the Islamic Salvation Army rejected it.
France, which governed Algeria for 130 years until 1962, will be key to any negotiated settlement, since it has been the military-backed regime's main sponsor. France sent Algeria $1.2 billion in aid last year; no decision has yet been made for 1995.
And French support will be critical in negotiations next month to restructure $700 million in Algerian debt to foreign banks. In March, the Algerian government will begin debt - reconstruction negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
At French Interior Minister Charles Pas-qua's request, ministers of France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Al-geria, and Tunisia met in Tunis for the first time on Jan. 21 to co-ordinate their actions against terrorism.
At the end of the meeting, the ministers condemned ``all forms of extremism or fanaticism.'' They pledged to share information and coordinate their fight against extremism in the hope that they will enable the European Union ``to concretely manifest'' its assistance to North Africa. ``Without civil peace, there can be no economic and social development,'' they stated.
The Tunis meeting is seen by some critics as a move to engage European states, and especially the European Union, more directly in support of the Algerian government.
But the French Foreign Ministry and European Union officials are taking care to say that they do not just support the government. Recently, Foreign Ministry statements have noted that France is aiding the Algerian people as a whole.
As a new European Commission takes office this week, a top priorities is rethinking the balance be-tween aid to Eastern Europe and aid to Mediterranean states. Statistics point to the Mediterranean's importance to the EU:
* There are 700,000 East European immigrants in EU countries, and 4.6 million from the Mediterranean.
* One percent of EU's energy needs are met in Eastern Europe, 27 percent from the Mediterranean basin.
The EU has a $230 million loan outstanding to the Algerian government to help it implement its agreements with the IMF and World Bank. ``The loan is to encourage the more progressive parts of the Algerian administration and more moderate parts of the opposition to put reforms in order,'' says a European Commission spokesman.