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Saturday, 27 February 2021

Algerians slam France refusal to 'repent' for colonial past

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the report, said there was a "never-ending memory war" between the two countries and suggested the commission hear testimony from people who suffered during the 1954-1962 conflict.

AFP , Thursday 21 Jan 2021
Algeria
An Algerian salutes the coffins of 24 resistance fighters killed during the French colonization of Algeria on July 4, 2020 in Algiers. The fighters’ remains had been repatriated from France the day before. AFP
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French President Emmanuel Macron's decision not to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria has sparked criticism on the streets of the North African country.

Macron's decision was announced by his office on Wednesday as report he commissioned called for the establishment of a "truth commission" to shed light on France's colonial past.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the report, said there was a "never-ending memory war" between the two countries and suggested the commission hear testimony from people who suffered during the 1954-1962 conflict that ended 132 years of French rule in Algeria.

But Macron has said there was "no question of showing repentance" or of "presenting an apology" for abuses committed in Algeria.

Algerians questioned by AFP expressed disappointment on Thursday, even as their government kept silent.

"France must recognise its crimes, the murders, the torture and the forced displacements of the Algerian people," said 26-year-old university student Hichem Lahouidj.

"French colonialism was one of the worst," he said, calling on authorities to "denounce" Macron's stance.

Day labourer Abdi Noureddine said France will never apologise "because it is afraid to have to pay hefty financial compensation... (and because) France is always against the Algerian people".

Arabic-language newspaper El Khabar set the tone with a two-page article dedicated to the Stora report, bluntly concluding: "France does not want to apologise... or repent."

Echourouk, another Arabic-language daily, accused Macron of having reneged on comments made during his 2017 election campaign.

Back then Macron had said France's colonisation of Algeria was a "crime against humanity".

And a year later he acknowledged France had instigated a system that facilitated torture during Algeria's eight-year war of independence.

"Once again President Macron does not keep the promises he made as a candidate... He prefers to have it both ways, so as not to lose everything," wrote Echourouk.

Painful Memories 

The French-language daily La Liberte said Stora had tried in his report to "set a balance between historical considerations and political sensitivities".

Macron is hoping the report will help to normalise Algeria-France relations, which have remained tense over the years.

But La Liberte questioned whether the report -- coming one year before Algeria marks the 60th anniversary of its independence from France -- will "put a rest" to the painful memories of the French occupation.

The Stora report raises many issues, including the sensitive topic of the harkis -- Muslim Algerians who fought on the side of France during the 1954-1962 war.

Algerians despised them as traitors while in France -- where around half a million harkis and their descendents live -- they are seen as an inconvenient reminder of the country's painful defeat in the conflict.

Stora recommended that steps be taken to facilitate the movement of harkis and their families between France and Algeria.

"It is true that the harkis betrayed the war of independence but... we must reconsider their return in Algeria, at least from a humanitarian point of view," said Algeria's El Fadjr newspaper.

There has been no official Algerian reaction yet to the Stora report.

President Abdemadjid Tebboune, who is in Germany recovering from a foot operation following post-Covid 19 complications, had two years ago called for a full apology from France, saying Algeria so far had only received "half apologies".

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