Algeria's killing fields Too much: Real guerrillas call truce to isolate real terrorists.

September 28, 1997

THE TERROR of the Armed Islamic Group against the people of Algeria bears comparison with the Shining Path guerrillas of Peru in their prime or with the Khmer Rouge government of Vietnam in the 1970s. The murders of some 500 ordinary Algerians, mostly in the villages immediately south of Algiers, destroy the people the terrorists claim to purify.

The extremists, bandits and sadists may say they act in the name of religious zeal, but the victims are all Muslims, too. They may say they mean to overthrow the government, but their victims are the common people.

So it was not surprising for the Islamic Salvation Army, which had begun this rebellion after the 1992 election was annulled to keep its political wing from winning, to call a cease-fire. The rival terrorists had stolen its revolution, which is now misunderstood on all sides.

President Liamine Zeroual has let notable Islamic political opponents out of prison but not restored politics. He is said to be negotiating with the banned Islamic Salvation Front but has not allowed it back into open activity, banning political parties based on religion. He has a long way to go in restoring national consensus.

But none of his shortcomings justifies the kind of terror the Armed Islamic Group is waging. That only perverts the more principled opposition of the Islamic Salvation Front and Islamic Salvation Army. President Zeroual deserves all factions' help in putting down the Armed Islamic Group's terror.

Then he can be held by his compatriots to a higher standard of political freedom.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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