Give Algeria a chance U.S. policy: Government deserves chance as terrorists discredit themselves.

March 21, 1996

THE GOVERNMENT of President Liamine Zeroual deserves the confidence that the Clinton administration is starting to show, as demonstrated by the visit of Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau to Algeria this week.

More significant, following the November election that to an extent legitimized the military-backed regime, the terrorism of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) against the people amounts to crimes against humanity.

Mr. Pelletreau reaffirmed U.S. support for Mr. Zeroual's policy of dialogue with exiled opponents in the Islamist political movement while fighting terrorism. Certainly the government needs to bring more people into the system so as to isolate the terrorists, not itself.

On Monday as Mr. Pelletreau arrived, a car booby-trapped by terrorists in a provincial town blew up killing six and wounding 21. On Tuesday, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues condemned human rights deprivations throughout the Arab world, saying Algeria has the second-highest number of political prisoners. And on Wednesday, as Mr. Pelletreau was leaving, an Algerian newspaper reported that terrorists in a village had slashed the throats of six workers and hurled their bodies into their burning truck. The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues is more interested in the brutality of governments than of insurrectionists.

But the GIA's behavior suggests that were it in power, it would commit human rights abuses on the scale of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s. To destroy the country's economy, it increasingly targets workers in the petroleum and natural gas industries much like its counterparts in southern Egypt attack tourists.

The Algerian regime brought some of this on itself in 1992 by repudiating the parliamentary election. But the turnout of nearly three-fourths of eligible voters last year endorsed the evolution toward democracy and repudiated tyranny by terror. Algeria deserves helpful encouragement to make good on its promises, and its people deserve to choose their rulers without having throats slit for a wrong choice.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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