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French Version

Algerian Islamist scoffs at ban

An Algerian government plan to reconcile the nation after years of conflict is unconstitutional and peace can only come through negotiations, a leader of a banned Islamist party said on Monday. Ali Belhadj, forbidden by a reconciliation charter from taking part in politics or speaking publicly about conflict in Algeria, was released from prison last month as part of an amnesty aimed at ending the war.

"The head of state took an oath on the Koran to respect and guarantee the constitution that he is the first one to violate," Belhadj told the French Le Monde daily newspaper.

"The charter on reconciliation has no constitutional legitimacy ... Taking part in politics is a right written down in the constitution. Nobody ... can prevent me from taking part in politics."

The Algiers government last month released 2,629 Islamists and guerrillas fighting the authorities were given six months to surrender and receive a pardon provided they were not responsible for massacres, rapes or bombings of public places.

About 200,000 have died in the violence that began in 1992 when the army cancelled elections which Belhadj's FIS party was poised to win. He was first jailed shortly after the elections were cancelled but was released in 2003 after serving a 12-year term along with FIS leader Abbassi Madani. He was arrested again in July 2005 for praising attacks by anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq and released on March 6.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has said reconciliation is the only way to draw a line under years of bloodshed.

Belhadj said reconciliation can only work with talks.

"How can we talk about national reconciliation when we have been living under a state of emergency for 14 years?" he asked. "A real reconciliation must be negotiated between all the parties concerned: the army, the parties, and civil society."

The amnesty, the second since Bouteflika first came to office in 1999, was overwhelmingly backed by voters in a referendum last year.

Belhadj said he wanted Algeria's justice system to shine a light on the civil war and those who were responsible. He said he would be prepared to be a witness in front of an international commission of inquiry, "but only if the authors of the military coup did it as well."

Some Algerians fear the possible revival of Islamic fundamentalist influences after the release of Islamic leaders.

Belhadj said FIS would win a fair election: "I'm convinced (of it). And if, at the following election, we lost we would leave the government without violence."

He also said he was fighting to have an Islamic state in Algeria under which Jews and Christians would be allowed representatives in Parliament to defend their interests.

Beirut,04 03 2006
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