Honour of Algerian army in the dock at Paris defamation trial

by Raphael Hermano

PARIS, June 30 (AFP) - A former top Algerian official will be attempting to salvage the honour of his country's armed forces in a Paris court on Monday, in a defamation suit against an army whistle-blower who has linked the army to a series of bloody massacres.

General Khaled Nezzar, a former defence minister and the main figure behind the cancellation of Algeria's electoral process in 1992, will be taking to task Habib Souaidia, a former army officer and author of "The Dirty War: 1992-2000".

In his book, Habib Souaidia detailed explosive allegations over the Algerian army's conduct during counter-insurgency against Islamic militants who launched a civil war after the January 1992 cancellation of a general election a Muslim fundamentalist party was set to win.

He claimed Algerian troops carried out massacres of civilians while disguised as rebels, shot suspects dead in cold blood and tortured rebels to death during the war against Islamic militants in the 1990s.

The shocking allegations in the French-language book -- which has sold 65, 000 copies in France -- sparked calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the former military regime in Algeria.

They also reinforced the suspicions of human rights activists about the army's conduct of its war against Islamic extremists.

A lawyer for Nezzar said the general would be seeking to undermine Souaidia's claims.

"We did not start this process for nothing. We intend to throw light onto everything that has happened in Algeria these past years," Jean-Rene Farthouat said, adding the general would call some 15 witnesses including former politicians and generals.

During the hearings, which are expected to last at least a week, the former Algerian military regime strongman is not directly challenging Souaidia's book, but rather comments he made on French channel 5 television.

The president of France Television, Marc Tessier, has also been called by the plaintiff to appear alongside the author.

During the offending broadcast, Souaidia reiterated his claims that "the generals ... killed thousands of people".

"It was them who decided to stop the electoral process, it is they who are responsible," the former officer said in the broadcast.

In his book, Souaidia wrote that he saw colleagues coming back from missions in villages where massacres by "Islamic rebels" were reported the following day.

Gradually, he himself was drawn into the "dirty war". In 1994, he joined an anti-terrorist unit disguised as bearded Islamist fighters. They abducted and killed half a dozen people suspected of Islamic sympathies, he wrote.

"We arrested people, tortured them, killed them and burnt their bodies," he writes, adding that he saw about 100 people die this way.

Souaidia left Algeria two years ago and now lives in France as a political refugee.

A lawyer for Souaidia described the general's complaint as absurd.

"The extraordinary paradox of this trial is that we have on one side the accused, an extremely courageous man who has spoken out against serious acts, and on the other a supposed victim, who is suspected of covering up extremely serious abuses," William Bourdon.

"In condeming Souaidia, General Nezzar is seeking to acquit the Algerian army," the lawyer said.

In November 2001, Nezzar was the object of judicial complaints of torture from Algerians in France related to opposition members, and was questioned by police in April this year.

In his defence the young whistle blower, who served at the rank of sub-lieutenant and is now in his early thirties, has called a number of supporting witnesses including journalists, dissident Algerian soldiers and historians.

In April, an Algerian court sentenced Souaidia to 20 years imprisonment for "participation in an effort to weaken the ANP (Popular National Army) and state security."

rh/sas/nb
-----------------

Ex-Algerian minister sues author

July 1, 2002

PARIS, France (AP) -- A former Algerian defence minister is suing a ex-army officer and best-selling author for defamation for linking him to atrocities in Algeria's war on Islamic extremists.

Retired General Khaled Nezzar has sued Habib Souaidia for remarks made in a French television interview.

The trial, expected to last a week, could provide a forum for those who allege the Algerian army stood by during massacres or even participated in them -- a question Algerian authorities have refused to address.

Nezzar was himself the subject of a legal complaint in France filed by a group of Algerians, alleging torture by Algerian security forces under his command.

Nezzar left France in April 2001 with the help of the Foreign Ministry, and the investigation was dropped.

Nezzar, defence minister from 1990-1993, was a central figure in the army's decision to cancel January 1992 legislative elections to stop a Muslim fundamentalist party from winning.

He was widely considered the leader of the five-man High State Committee that assumed power for two years after the aborted vote.

The decision to cancel the elections triggered Islamic insurgency that has continued for the past decade, killing an estimated 120,000 people -- insurgents, soldiers and civilians.

Last August, Nezzar announced plans to file a defamation suit against Souaidia for accusing him, during a May 2001 interview on France's Channel 5, of "being responsible for the assassination of thousands of people."

Nezzar has described Souaidia as a low-level officer who has been manipulated.

Souaidia served in the special forces leading the war against Islamic extremists.

He has written a book, "The Dirty War," which reinforced the suspicions of some that Algerian security forces had a role in the massacres of civilians and other atrocities.

International human rights groups and others have long accused security forces of resorting to torture and kidnappings in the battle against Muslim extremists.

Various groups have sought an independent investigation of those charges and the larger allegation that the army actively killed in what is often referred to as Algeria's "secret war."

Amnesty International renewed its call last week for Algerian authorities to "take concrete steps to establish the truth."

____________________________________

Former defense minister confronts best-selling author over allegations of military atrocities in war against Islamic extremists

 

By ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press Writer, Mon Jul 1

PARIS - A former Algerian defense minister faced down a one-time special forces officer in a French court on Monday, in a defamation trial that opened a public examination of the conduct of the army during Algeria's brutal Islamic insurgency.

"I am here to defend my honor, and I have the moral obligation to defend the honor of the Algerian army," said retired Gen. Khaled Nezzar, widely seen as Algeria's leading decision-maker a decade ago when the insurgency began.

Nezzar, 66, sued former army officer Habib Souaidia, who fled Algeria and became a best-selling author in France, for remarks made during a French television interview in May 2001 in which he accused Algeria's generals, and Nezzar in particular, of being responsible for the violence. Souadia called Nezzar a coward and claimed that he and others have profited from the war that has killed an estimated 120,000 people.

The suit by Nezzar did not concern a book published in France last year by Souaidia, "The Dirty War," which opened a heated debate on the lingering question of whether the army took part in massacres and atrocities as the book claims.

The week-long trial features numerous witnesses, from human rights activists to former Algerian Prime Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali.

"For the first time, a real trial is taking place about the question of who is killing whom," said Cherifa Khaddar, president of an Algerian victims' group, Our Algeria. She was among numerous Algerians in the packed courtroom. "It's no longer an impersonal question from the media, but real questions by lawyers in a real jurisdiction."

Souaidia, 33, told the court he cited Nezzar because of his crucial role in the army's decision to abort the second round of legislative elections in January 1992 to thwart a likely victory by the Islamic Salvation Front. The now-banned Muslim fundamentalist party won a large first-round victory.

The decision to cancel the North African nation's first multiparty national elections triggered the insurgency by Islamic extremists that continues 10 years later.

Nezzar confirmed he was among a group of officials who decided to cancel the vote, and defended the decision.

"We knew the second round was going to be a sweep (by the fundamentalists), the Afghanization of Algeria," the mustachioed Nezzar told the court.

"We would have used democracy but a single time," he said in a booming voice. If the Islamic Salvation Front had won, "we were going to apply the Sharia," he said, referring to Muslim law.

Once the vote was canceled, Nezzar became a leading figure in a five-man High State Committee that ran the country. Nezzar, who continued to wield power after retirement, claimed that then-President Chadli Bendjedid chose to resign and was not forced from power as is widely believed.

Souaidia, who moved to France last year as a political refugee, said he wrote his book and spoke as he did on television to defend in his own way "what remains of the honor of the national Algerian army."

In the war on Islamic extremists, "a soldier who should apply the law is transformed into a terrorist who tortures and rapes," he told the court.

"One day history will catch up to you," he said in an emotional voice, pointing at Nezzar.

Souaidia spent four years in the military prison on what he claims were unjust charges of theft. Algerian authorities dismiss him as a criminal whose accounts of atrocities amount to inventions.

The radical Armed Islamic Group has claimed responsibility for massacres with hatchets, knives and guns that have killed tens of thousands of civilians, often children, and forced hundreds of thousands of villagers to flee their homes.

However, Souaidia contends security forces systematically tortured and abducted civilians, sometimes indiscriminately, and carried out massacres, too.

He claimed in court that he was present when his special forces burned alive a 15-year-old, tied up and naked, at garbage dump outside Algiers.

"We took him, put him in the dump, put gasoline on him and lit it," he said.

Nezzar himself was the object of a complaint on behalf of three Algerians, two of whom were tortured and one killed. French judicial officials opened an investigation in April 2001 when Nezzar was in Paris to promote his memoirs. But before he could be questioned, Nezzar slipped out of France and returned to Algeria. The case was later dropped.

In the television interview, Souaidia accused Nezzar of acting in a cowardly fashion for leaving town.

Nezzar told the court he left to avoid a diplomatic incident between France and Algeria. He filed the defamation lawsuit the following month.

(eg-jk)

_____________________________________

Algerian author sued over war claims

Tens of thousands have died in the civil war

By James Coomarasamy , BBC correspondent in Paris, Monday, 1 July, 2002

Former Algerian Defence Minister General Khaled Nezzer is hoping to restore the image of his country's armed forces in a Paris court this week.

General Nezzer has brought a case of defamation against Habib Souaidia, an ex-army officer whose book, The Dirty War 1992 - 2000, contains allegations about the conduct of Algerian troops in their fight against Islamic militants.

General Nezzar was questioned by French police over torture claims

The author, who used to be a sub-lieutenant in the Algerian army, said that soldiers disguised as rebels had massacred civilians, and frequently tortured rebels to death.

He said he had personally witnessed about 100 such killings.

Human rights groups have long suspected the Algerian army was implicated in the massacres, but the book's account is unprecedented first hand evidence.

Bloody conflict

General Nezzer was behind the cancellation of Algeria's 1992 election, which an Islamic fundamentalist party looked set to win.

This was the event that sparked off the decade-long civil conflict, which has seen the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Algeria.

General Nezzer has brought the defamation case not against the book itself but against similar allegations made by the author on a French television show.

The general has said he wants to set the record straight.

He has been personally accused of torture by Algerians living in France and was questioned by French police earlier this year.

____________________________

Author blasts Algerian army at start of French defamation case

by Raphael Hermano

PARIS, July 1 (AFP) - A former Algerian army officer on Monday stood by his accusations linking the country's military to mass killings and torture, as a defamation suit brought against him by an ex-defense minister opened here.

"History will catch up with you in your grave," former sub-lieutenant Habib Souaidia, author of the book, "The Dirty War: 1992-2000", spat at General Khaled Nezzar.

Nezzar, a former defense minister and the main figure behind the cancellation of Algeria's elections in January 1992, has sued Souaidia for defamation in a bid to salvage the honor of the country's army.

In his book, Souaidia made explosive allegations about the army's attempts to quell Islamic militants, who launched a civil war after the cancellation of the general election a Muslim fundamentalist party was set to win.

The former officer claimed Algerian troops massacred civilians while disguised as rebels, shot suspects dead in cold blood and tortured rebels to death during the war against Islamic militants in the 1990s.

The shocking allegations in the book -- which has sold some 70,000 copies in France -- sparked calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the former military regime in Algeria.

Nezzar is not directly challenging the book, but comments Souaidia made on France's channel 5 television.

During the broadcast in question, he repeated his claims that "the generals... killed thousands of people."

The 33-year-old Souaidia, who seemed somewhat confused at times during his testimony, told the court he had seen troops douse a 15-year-old boy in gasoline and burn him alive.

"What human being could do such a thing?" he said.

Souaidia -- who left Algeria two years ago and now lives in France as a political refugee -- also said he was forced to escort soldiers disguised as Islamic militants into a village, where they massacred 12 civilians.

Nezzar, who has flatly denied the claims, retorted: "Beyond the defamatory comments made about me personally, it's really an entire people, a government and its army... that the slanderers have disgraced."

Souaidia's attorneys took advantage of Nezzar's presence in Paris to announce that nine Algerians had filed complaints last week against him for torture and inhumane treatment.

Previous similar complaints filed against the general in the French court system have been dropped.

One of Nezzar's lawyers, Jean-Rene Farthouat, responded by deeming the legal action nothing but "new posturing" by the general's opponents.

"This confirms my notion that all this is part of a set-up," he told AFP.

The defamation trial is set to wrap up on Friday.

rh/sst/tm

___________________________________

 

Trial opens on Algeria's dirty war charges

PARIS, Jul 01, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A trial opened Monday in which the author of a sensational book on Algeria's civil war is accused of dishonoring the country's military and its former defense minister.

The retired minister, Gen. Khaled Nezzar, has pressed charges against former Algerian army officer Habib Souaidia, who sparked furor in France and Algeria last year with his book, "The Dirty War."

In it, Souaidia accuses Nezzar of presiding over scores of tortures, killings and disappearances by Algeria's military during the last decade's clashes with Islamist guerrillas.

Monday's trial, however, doesn't directly relate to the book -- but to similar accusations made by Souaidia on French television.

"It's all part of a vast operation of destabilization," Nezzar's lawyer, Jean-Rene Farthouat, said in a telephone interview Monday.

Farthouat suggested Souaidia had been "manipulated" by those wanting to discredit Nezzar and the Algerian government.

"I'm not saying the Algerian government did nothing wrong, or that it did wrong," the lawyer added. "I'm representing General Nezzar -- not the Algerian government. Mr. Nezzar stepped down from his post in 1994, yet he's accused of being responsible for everything that happened in Algeria."

Last year, several Algerians living in exile in France pressed charges against Nezzar while the general was visiting Paris. They, too, blame Nezzar for being responsible for torture while he was Algerian defense minister, between 1990 and 1993. Nezzar left France abruptly.

According to Amnesty International, one of the plaintiffs has since dropped his case -- but not before his son was arrested in Algeria, on charges of having links with an armed group.

Another Algerian, human rights lawyer Rachid Mesli, was expected to appear as a defense witness in this week's trial, Amnesty International said. The Algerian government has issued an international arrest warrant against Mesli for alleged terrorist ties, Amnesty International said in a statement.

Such examples -- along with the current trial against Souaidia -- appears to be part of a "pattern" by the Algerian government to silence its critics, said Francis Perrin, president of Amnesty International in France.

"Amnesty is not in a position to be able to confirm all the allegations in the book by Mr. Habib Souaidia," Perrin said in an interview with United Press International.

"But we are very disturbed by recent and not so recent developments in Algeria concerning either human rights defenders, or people who try to get the truth about vast disappearances, or about the so called dirty war between the armed forces and the armed Islamist guerrillas."

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika vowed to look into the accusations against the military, shortly after his election in 1999. But some analysts say Bouteflika has a narrow margin of maneuver against a shadowy group of military, business and tribal interests Algerians dub "Le Pouvoir," or the power.

Nezzar's lawyer, Farthouat, said the general would be present throughout the trial, which is expected to last a week.

By ELIZABETH BRYANT, United Press International

__________________

Algerian general target of new torture allegations in French court

PARIS, July 1 (AFP) - Nine Algerians have filed complaints in a Paris court against the country's former defense minister General Khaled Nezzar for torture and inhumane treatment, one of their attorneys announced Monday.
Nezzar, the main figure behind the cancellation of Algeria's elections in 1992, is in Paris to attend hearings in a defamation suit he filed against a whistle-blower who has linked the army to a series of bloody massacres.

Previous similar complaints filed against the general in the French court system have been dropped.

One of Nezzar's lawyers, Jean-Rene Farthouat, responded by deeming the legal action nothing but "new posturing" by the general's opponents.

"This confirms my notion that all this is part of a set-up," he told AFP.

The nine complainants -- who allege that Nezzar led a state campaign of torture and repression of political dissidents -- have asked that an inquiry be opened, and that Nezzar be detained and questioned.

"Deportations, mass killings, extrajudicial executions and the massive use of torture have become part of a policy of systematic repression sparked by political concerns, of which Khaled Nezzar is the principal architect," reads the joint complaint, filed on Friday.

The new charges against Nezzar came as the general attempted to salvage the Algerian army's honor by suing former officer Habib Souaidia, author of the French-language book, "The Dirty War: 1992-2000".

Souaidia made explosive allegations about the army's attempts to quell Islamic militants, who launched a civil war after the cancellation in January 1992 of a general election a Muslim fundamentalist party was set to win.

The former officer claimed Algerian troops massacred civilians while disguised as rebels, shot suspects dead in cold blood and tortured rebels to death during the war against Islamic militants in the 1990s.

The shocking allegations in the book -- which has sold 65,000 copies in France -- sparked calls for an international inquiry into the conduct of the former military regime in Algeria.

Nezzar's case against Souaidia opened Monday and was due to last at least a week.

"Some have said worse things than me, I don't understand why the generals are attacking me and not the others," Souaidia said upon his arrival in court.

"In any event, I take back nothing that I said."

rh/sst/nb
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Algerian army role in atrocities debated at French courtroom

Jul 4, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) -- A Paris courtroom has become a public stage for charges that the Algerian army had a role in atrocities and massacres during this nation's Islamic insurgency.
Former Algerian Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar, 66, has sued a former special forces officer, Habib Souaidia , author of the best-selling book "The Dirty War," for slander for remarks made during a May 2001 TV interview.

Souaidia called Nezzar a coward in the interview and held him and other generals responsible for the continuing violence in the former French colony, AP reported.

"I am here to defend my honor and ... the honor of the Algerian army," Nezzar told the court Monday.

He headed the Algerian armed forces when it was given the leading role in fighting terrorism in the country. In 1992, the Interior Ministry and later the military began to engage in the systematic use of torture against persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of the Islamist movement.

Secrecy has shrouded the decade-long conflict between security forces and Islamic extremists, and even the death toll is uncertain. A rough estimate of the dead is 120,000.

Questions about whether security forces have had a role began surfacing after two 1997 massacres, in Rais and Bentalha south of Algiers, carried out near army barracks not far from the heaviest concentration of military personnel in the country.

Then came Souaidia, 33, who claimed in his book that he witnessed torture, atrocities and massacres while serving at the head of a special forces unit. He and some others have been claiming the military has perpetuated a climate of fear to retain its power.

Algerian authorities dismiss Souaidia as a criminal. He spent four years in a military prison for theft before fleeing to France, where he has applied for political refugee status. "One day history will catch up with you in your grave," Souaidia said with a shaking voice Monday, pointing at Nezzar.

He claimed he was present when soldiers burned alive a 15-year-old, tied up and naked, at a garbage dump outside Algiers.

"The Algerian army is not an army of barbarians," Nezzar said from the stand. (Albawaba.com)

By Al-Bawaba Reporters

---------------------------------------

Algerian Army Role on Trial in Paris

PARIS, Jul 04, 2002 (AP Online via COMTEX) -- A Paris courtroom has become a public stage for charges that the Algerian army had a role in atrocities and massacres during the North African nation's Islamic insurgency.
The cast of characters in the courtroom drama that began Monday is as unlikely as the setting: former Algerian Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar in a showdown with a former special forces officer, Habib Souaidia, author of the best-selling book "The Dirty War."

The witness list reads like a "Who's Who" of Algerians and experts, from a former prime minister to a leading historian and human rights figures in France.

Nezzar, 66, has sued Souaidia for slander for remarks made during a May 2001 TV interview. Souaidia called Nezzar a coward in the interview and held him and other generals responsible for the continuing violence in the former French colony.

"I am here to defend my honor and ... the honor of the Algerian army," Nezzar told the court Monday.

Secrecy has shrouded the decade-long conflict between security forces and Islamic extremists, and even the death toll is uncertain. A rough estimate of the dead is 120,000.

However, the savage nature of the conflict is not in doubt. The radical Armed Islamic Group has massacred whole villages with instruments as crude as hatchets and knives, cutting off heads and sometimes displaying them as a warning.

The Armed Islamic Group, as well as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, are on the United States' list of terrorist organizations.

Questions about whether security forces have had a role began surfacing after two 1997 massacres, in Rais and Bentalha south of Algiers, carried out near army barracks not far from the heaviest concentration of military personnel in the country.

Then came Souaidia, 33, who claims in his book that he witnessed torture, atrocities and massacres while serving at the head of a special forces unit. He and some others claim the military has perpetuated a climate of fear to retain its power.

International human rights groups, the U.S. government and others called in the past for an independent investigation of the charges - which Algeria has categorically refused to do.

Algerian authorities dismiss Souaidia as a criminal. He spent four years in a military prison for theft before fleeing to France, where he has applied for political refugee status.

"One day history will catch up with you in your grave," Souaidia said with a shaking voice Monday, pointing at Nezzar.

He claimed he was present when soldiers burned alive a 15-year-old, tied up and naked, at a garbage dump outside Algiers.

Nezzar was unflinching.

"The Algerian army is not an army of barbarians," the retired general boomed from the stand.

Presiding Judge Herve Stephan is seeking to establish Nezzar's role during the crucial period preceding the insurgency - triggered when the army canceled January 1992 legislative elections, the nation's first multiparty national vote, to thwart a Muslim fundamentalist party from victory.

Nezzar confirmed he was among a group of officials who decided to abort the vote. Once the vote was canceled, he became a leading figure on a five-man High State Committee that ran the country.

By ELAINE GANLEY Associated Press Writer

----------------------

Algerian opposition leader accuses general of election 'coup'

PARIS, July 4 (AFP) - The leader of Algeria's oldest opposition party, the Socialist Forces Front, on Thursday accused the country's ex-defense minister of orchestrating a "coup d'etat" by cancelling general elections in 1992.
"Mr Khaled Nezzar, you carried out a coup d'etat! The way in which all this played out was a true coup d'etat, and it was a catastrophe," FFS leader Hocine Ait Ahmed told the general, in testimony given in a Paris courtroom.

Ait Ahmed was called as a surprise witness for former Algerian sub-lieutenant Habib Souaidia, who is being sued by Nezzar for defamation.

Nezzar, the main figure behind the cancellation of Algeria's elections in January 1992, filed suit against Souaidia, who has linked the army to a series of bloody massacres and torture.

In his book "The Dirty War: 1992-2000", Souaidia made explosive allegations about the army's attempts to quell Islamic militants, who launched a civil war after the cancellation of the general election a Muslim fundamentalist party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was set to win.

Nezzar is not directly challenging the book, but comments Souaidia made on France's channel 5 television.

During the broadcast in question, he repeated his claims that "the generals... killed thousands of people."

Ait Ahmed's FFS was the only party aside from the FIS and the formerly all-powerful National Liberation Front to win any seats in a December 1991 general election which was cancelled the following month once it was clear the FIS would sweep the board in the second round.

The FFS leader told the Paris court he had urged Nezzar not to intervene in a meeting before the regime's decision to call off the polls.

"And you told me 'We'll never intervene'," Ait Ahmed said, calling the move a way for the regime to stay in power.

The defamation trial is set to wrap up on Friday.

Meanwhile, Paris prosecutors said they had dismissed a complaint filed last week by nine Algerians against Nezzar for torture and inhumane treatment for lack of evidence.

Previous similar complaints filed against the general in the French court system have been dropped.

fal/sst/nb
------------------------
The New York Times
4 july 2002

Algerian Army Role on Trial in Paris

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PARIS (AP) -- A Paris courtroom has become a public stage for charges that the Algerian army had a role in atrocities and massacres during the North African nation's Islamic insurgency.
The cast of characters in the courtroom drama that began Monday is as unlikely as the setting: former Algerian Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar in a showdown with a former special forces officer, Habib Souaidia, author of the best-selling book ``The Dirty War.''
The witness list reads like a ``Who's Who'' of Algerians and experts, from a former prime minister to a leading historian and human rights figures in France.
Nezzar, 66, has sued Souaidia for slander for remarks made during a May 2001 TV interview. Souaidia called Nezzar a coward in the interview and held him and other generals responsible for the continuing violence in the former French colony.
``I am here to defend my honor and ... the honor of the Algerian army,'' Nezzar told the court Monday.
Secrecy has shrouded the decade-long conflict between security forces and Islamic extremists, and even the death toll is uncertain. A rough estimate of the dead is 120,000.
However, the savage nature of the conflict is not in doubt. The radical Armed Islamic Group has massacred whole villages with instruments as crude as hatchets and knives, cutting off heads and sometimes displaying them as a warning.
The Armed Islamic Group, as well as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, are on the United States' list of terrorist organizations.
Questions about whether security forces have had a role began surfacing after two 1997 massacres, in Rais and Bentalha south of Algiers, carried out near army barracks not far from the heaviest concentration of military personnel in the country.
Then came Souaidia, 33, who claims in his book that he witnessed torture, atrocities and massacres while serving at the head of a special forces unit. He and some others claim the military has perpetuated a climate of fear to retain its power.
International human rights groups, the U.S. government and others called in the past for an independent investigation of the charges -- which Algeria has categorically refused to do.
Algerian authorities dismiss Souaidia as a criminal. He spent four years in a military prison for theft before fleeing to France, where he has applied for political refugee status.
``One day history will catch up with you in your grave,'' Souaidia said with a shaking voice Monday, pointing at Nezzar.
He claimed he was present when soldiers burned alive a 15-year-old, tied up and naked, at a garbage dump outside Algiers.
Nezzar was unflinching.
``The Algerian army is not an army of barbarians,'' the retired general boomed from the stand.
Presiding Judge Herve Stephan is seeking to establish Nezzar's role during the crucial period preceding the insurgency -- triggered when the army canceled January 1992 legislative elections, the nation's first multiparty national vote, to thwart a Muslim fundamentalist party from victory.
Nezzar confirmed he was among a group of officials who decided to abort the vote. Once the vote was canceled, he became a leading figure on a five-man High State Committee that ran the country.

-------------------------

French court confronts Algeria's Islamic insurgency in suit brought by retired general

By ELAINE GANLEY, The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) -- A Paris courtroom has become a public stage for charges that the Algerian army had a role in atrocities and massacres during the North African nation's Islamic insurgency.
The cast of characters in the courtroom drama that began Monday is as unlikely as the setting: former Algerian Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar in a showdown with a former special forces officer, Habib Souaidia, author of the best-selling book "The Dirty War."
The witness list reads like a "Who's Who" of Algerians and experts, from a former prime minister to a leading historian and human rights figures in France.
Nezzar, 66, has sued Souaidia for slander for remarks made during a May 2001 TV interview. Souaidia called Nezzar a coward in the interview and held him and other generals responsible for the continuing violence in the former French colony.
"I am here to defend my honor and ... the honor of the Algerian army," Nezzar told the court Monday.
Secrecy has shrouded the decade-long conflict between security forces and Islamic extremists, and even the death toll is uncertain. A rough estimate of the dead is 120,000.
However, the savage nature of the conflict is not in doubt. The radical Armed Islamic Group has massacred whole villages with instruments as crude as hatchets and knives, cutting off heads and sometimes displaying them as a warning.
The Armed Islamic Group, as well as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, are on the United States' list of terrorist organizations.
Questions about whether security forces have had a role began surfacing after two 1997 massacres, in Rais and Bentalha south of Algiers, carried out near army barracks not far from the heaviest concentration of military personnel in the country.
Then came Souaidia, 33, who claims in his book that he witnessed torture, atrocities and massacres while serving at the head of a special forces unit. He and some others claim the military has perpetuated a climate of fear to retain its power.
International human rights groups, the U.S. government and others called in the past for an independent investigation of the charges -- which Algeria has categorically refused to do.
Algerian authorities dismiss Souaidia as a criminal. He spent four years in a military prison for theft before fleeing to France, where he has applied for political refugee status.
"One day history will catch up with you in your grave," Souaidia said with a shaking voice Monday, pointing at Nezzar.
He claimed he was present when soldiers burned alive a 15-year-old, tied up and naked, at a garbage dump outside Algiers.
Nezzar was unflinching.
"The Algerian army is not an army of barbarians," the retired general boomed from the stand.
Presiding Judge Herve Stephan is seeking to establish Nezzar's role during the crucial period preceding the insurgency -- triggered when the army canceled January 1992 legislative elections, the nation's first multiparty national vote, to thwart a Muslim fundamentalist party from victory.
Nezzar confirmed he was among a group of officials who decided to abort the vote. Once the vote was canceled, he became a leading figure on a five-man High State Committee that ran the country.

 
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