The Elysee Palace, where sitting French presidents work for the nation, issued a statement about the repression that took place back in 1961, when Algerian demonstrators asking for Algeria’s independence, were brutally massacred and thrown in the Seine river in Paris.
While this official recognition of such massacres constitutes a first in the history of France, the announcement from the Elysee Palace however came in the form of a one-sentence “Communique” rather than a public announcement to the press through the Palace’s Spokesman, as it is usually the case with issues of importance.
Just like Algerian authorities who are in quest of legitimacy and recognition by their very own people, the Algerian press welcomed the news as perhaps the most important event of year. It is true that official France never even acknowledged the eight years war (from 1954 to 1962), which resulted in the loss of Algeria (France’s former colony) after a conflict which cost the lives of millions both Algerian and French, until recent years after both Algerian and French Intellectuals and human rights activists put tremendous pressure on the French government to do so.
The timing of the French recognition of the massacres of Algerians in 1961 is interesting however, especially that France’s current President; Francois Hollande, is a leading figure in what is shaping up to be a “Pre-planning” phase of a military intervention in northern Mali; a country that shares over 200 miles of borders with Algeria, and a conflict that Algeria is trying to avert at all costs.
The idea of military intervention in the Sahel region of north Africa is not new however. Activities by militants in that part of the world have already raised eyebrows in Washington and some European capitals since the early 2000s. It all began when small extremist groups joined forces to overthrow different governments in north Africa and establish Islamic rule, after failed attempts to overthrow the military backed Algerian government in the 1990s. A leading group in such region is a derivative of the Algerian “GIA” or “Groupe Islamique Armee” which during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, spread terror throughout Algeria and claimed responsibility for the killings of thousands of innocent Algerian civilians. After being nearly destroyed and heavily defeated by the Algerian Army and security forces, the “GIA” sought refuge in the Sahel region and northern Mali, and renamed itself “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” or “AQMI” most certainly to rally other groups with the same ideology to its cause, recruit new foot soldiers, and rebuild its strength.
“AQMI” caught the attention of western countries after kidnapping a multitude of tourists and foreign workers in southern Algeria in April 2003. While all of them were released after secret negotiations took place between the Algerian government and the kidnappers, it seems like there are other instances when tourists as well as Algerian diplomats were abducted both in southern Algeria as well as Mali (An Algerian diplomat has been reported killed by such groups this past September 2012, although the information was never confirmed by Algerian authorities)
The US government officially asked Algeria to allow it to establish the African Central Command (AFRICOM) of the US Armed forces in southern Algeria in 2008, but Algerian authorities chose to decline branding the national sovereignty card. Three years later, in 2011, the US offered to help Algeria monitor the Sahel region through the deployment of drones which would take off from southern Algerian air bases and conduct reconnaissance missions throughout the Algerian-Mali border; another request which Algerians have declined to satisfy by fear of being perceived by opposition groups in Algeria as having relinquished a hardly earned freedom to foreign troops.
While Algeria keeps a close cooperation relationship with the United States on issues of security and combating terrorism, it remains careful not to involve itself in conflicts that might bring back instability to its territory and people.
The French President who is due to arrive in Algiers on his first State visit in mid December 2012, and whom surprised politicians, journalists, as well as people on both sides of the Mediterranean (Algerians and French) by recognizing France’s responsibility in the massacres of Algerians in 1961, might be on a mission which other western countries have so far failed to accomplish; convince Algeria that military intervention in the Sahel and northern Mali will not bring troubles to Algeria’s southern border nor affect its military or stability, as the weapons of choice of such intervention will be unmanned aerial planes; drones.
If Mr. Hollande succeeds in convincing Algiers of such thing, can one assume that southern Algeria to which this potential conflict might spill to, will become the next Pakistan whose populations suffer from controversial drone attacks on a daily basis?