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Hundreds murdered in widespread Algeria attacks

January 6, 1998
Web posted at: 3:22 p.m. EST (2022 GMT)

From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie

RELIZANE PROVINCE, Algeria (CNN) -- A blood-soaked bed and a bloodied baby bottle were stark testimony to a new round of savagery in Algeria Tuesday.

Scores of children were orphaned and as many as 170 others are dead as villages in western Algeria were hit with two new attacks.

No one has claimed responsibility for the violence, but Algeria's frequent bombings and bloody massacres are most often blamed on Muslim militants who want to overthrow the secular government and create a state based on Koranic law.

"I don't understand. They say they want to defend their religion, (but) do you defend your religion by killing women and children?" asked one man in light of the recent round of killing. "I don't think they are defending Islam."

Algerian newspapers said as many as 400 people have died in an upsurge of violence that began last Tuesday with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In the small village of Meknassa, near the western town of Relizane, the French-language daily newspaper La Tribune reported that 117 villagers were killed early Sunday.

Relizane was the scene of a brutal massacre December 30, the first day of Ramadan, when armed marauders killed more than 400 people in four villages in the area.

French Journalist Catherine Tardrew describes the scene in Relizane
icon 221K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

South of Algiers, in the isolated mountain hamlet of Souk el Had, 28 people were killed, according to another newspaper, the pro-government L'Authentique.

The remainder of the casualties occurred in scattered attacks south of Algiers.

Reports said several villages came under attack Tuesday, their inhabitants burned alive or their throats cuts.

Saad Djebbar, an Algerian lawyer, said he believes the massacres were done in the name of politics, not religion.

"I think in the name of dirty politics, because whatever was done constitutes a crime against humanity and I think (the) Algerian government has (the) capability to chase these people and bring them to justice," he said.

There is reportedly some speculation among Algerians and some human rights organizations that thegovernment itself may be behind some of the incidents.

At least 60,000 people, and possibly twice as many more, have been killed since 1992, when Algeria's military regime canceled elections after Islamic parties won the first round. Some believe, at the very least, the government benefits from the violence because the fear distracts people.

"Once you isolate violence from both sides ... it makes the people start to think about themselves, about their economic problems, about their social problems," Djebbar said.

The latest round of violence has prompted concern in several European capitals as well as in Washington, D.C., from which there have been appeals to end the slaughter and calls for the Algerian government to do more to protect its people.

On Tuesday, European Union nations were studying a German proposal to help the Algerian government combat terrorism and send aid to victims of the wave of massacres.

But officials said Europe's scope for action was limited.

"We have to be extremely careful about what to do. It's not as if we have many options," said Belgian Foreign Minister Erik Derycke.

Algeria is the world's eighth-largest supplier of natural gas, and Western European governments appear reluctant to make any moves that could disrupt economic relations.

 
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