2005-08-27 09:10:00
Embassy Algiers
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ALGIERS 001810 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/22/2015



Classified By: Richard W. Erdman for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)




E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/22/2015



Classified By: Richard W. Erdman for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)


1. (C) President Bouteflika is poised to win a strong
majority in the September 29 referendum on his proposed
Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation. Through a
carefully crafted political and media strategy, he has framed
the proposal in a way that makes it hard to oppose;
orchestrated a pro-Charter campaign using presidential
coalition parties, prominent personalities, former
terrorists, and various labor, civic, and sports groups; and
directed a drumbeat of pro-reconciliation messages in the
mostly receptive press and on government-controlled
television and radio. He has also pointedly argued that the
Charter represents the only possible "equilibrium of
interests" at this time and that, having fought and defeated
terrorism on its own, Algeria does need outsiders to tell it
how to pursue national reconciliation. In the process, a
sense of inevitability of the passage of the "reconciliation"
Charter has been created and any inclination to seriously
debate the content of what is in effect a partial amnesty for
those with blood on their hands has been dampened.

2. (C) For sure, some press commentaries, human rights
groups, terrorist victims groups, and other NGOs have
criticized the proposed Charter as providing for impunity at
the expense of justice and truth-telling. For the most part,
however, public and private discussion has centered not on
substance, but on whether the Charter will work. Will
pardoning or not prosecuting those with blood on their hands
in the end promote reconciliation, help reintegrate former
integrist elements into society, and dramatically isolate and
weaken terrorist remnants still in the maquis? Bouteflika
himself has been careful to say that his proposal will not
solve all the problems and that real reconciliation will
require more time. We agree. At best, the Charter will be
an interim measure passed by a people weary after more than a
decade of terrorism and willing to hope that, whatever the
Charter's faults, it will help bring an end to their national

nightmare. (End Summary and Comment)


3. (C) In a speech delivered August 14, President Bouteflika
outlined his long-awaited vision for National Reconciliation
(Ref B). A day later, the GOA published the Charter for
Peace and National Reconciliation, which discussed the
parameters for implementing the plan, though not some of the
legal details. The benchmark of success for Bouteflika's
gambit will, in the short term, be the success of the
referendum both in positive votes and voter turnout. Another
measure will be whether it is followed by rolling back the
national state of emergency in a return to normalcy.
Terrorist elements will not be completely eliminated, but
Bouteflika hopes that by passing the referendum, Algeria will
put the violence of the 1990's behind it, encourage Algerians
abroad to return home, and persuade the remaining terrorists
still operating in the country of the futility of continuing
their struggle. In his first day of campaigning for the
charter in Skikda, Bouteflika reiterated his message, "Never,
never again. We will do everything so that terrorism won't
find its way to Algeria." The fight against terror will
continue against "those who want to keep the country in

4. (U) Madani Mezrag, the former Islamic Salvation Army
(AIS) leader hailed August 23 the President's initiative and
the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation. While
making no apologies for his previous actions and claiming the
AIS had been engaged in "a just war," Merzag said, "We are
with President Bouteflika today and tomorrow, not because his
name is Bouteflika, but because he is the initiator of a
political project of reconciliation." While regretting that
members of the banned party Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) are
"forbidden from any political activity," he added: "Politics
is not the objective of Muslims; we have other places to
express ourselves such as associations, our families and
society in general." Based on his contacts with armed
terrorist groupd, he expected 80% of the remaining "200
terrorists" will lay down their arms after the referendum.
Even some members of the GSPC, such as a group called Hooumat
Ed-Daawa Es-Salafiya, will be "receptive" to the Charter," he
said. Mezrag's sole criticism was that the FIS was portrayed
as the only party to bear responsibility for the crisis. He
countered that "The former regime in place was the one
responsible for the crisis."


5. (U) Press coverage has been extensive, with reaction
ranging from positive to negative, with varying degrees of
skepticism but most in the end, like the public, hoping the
President's proposal will prove effective, faute de mieux.
El Moudjahid, the French-language official daily, provided a
blitz of positive coverage highlighting support for the plan.
L'Expression highlighted prospective beneficiaries of
National Reconciliation by publishing daily interviews with
and comments by former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and
Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) leaders. The latter issued a
statement favorable to the National Reconciliation
Initiative, even though they are to be excluded from all
political activity, calling it a "half solution." La Tribune
and Le Quotidien d'Oran, two elite French-language dailies,
expressed skepticism about National Reconciliation and its
end results. The two French language papers which most
openly criticized Bouteflika's project were the opposition
Liberte and the tabloidish Le Soir d'Algerie. They pointed
out that "the notion of justice" is completely absent from
the charter, and that the President's proposal amounted to "a
security solution" more than anything else. Both of these
papers insisted that the compensation proposed for the
victims of "the National Tragedy" were overly financial.
Since Algeria was currently "a country with means" throwing
money at the problem was the painless solution. Both
newspapers complained that the President did not "tackle the
roots of the crisis," namely social injustice, corruption,
and mismanagement. El Watan, the leading French-language
daily, has expressed skepticism and carried some critical
articles but has neither endorsed nor rejected the Charter.

6. (U) In the Arabic-language press, the highest circulating
daily, El Khabar, did its best to present objectively the
President's project by interviewing all parties concerned.
Unlike some papers which openly favored the "pros," El Khabar
also presented the "cons." The other Arabic papers like El
Bilad (close to the MSP),Sawt El Ahrar (close to the FLN),
and Al Shorouk El Youmi did not show the same objectivity.
These papers openly expressed full support for National

7. (SBU) Unsurprisingly, the broadcast media, which are owned
and operated by the Government, were entirely supportive.
Both television and radio stations aired spots encouraging a
"yes" vote. Three public-service ads now air frequently on
Algerian TV. The first spot shows the Algerian flag. In the
background, the song, "On Forgiveness," sung by a famous
Algerian singer, is played. The second advertisement centers
around writing on the screen which says, "From civil concord
to national reconciliation for the sake of Algeria: September
29, 2005 referendum." (Posters bearing these words have
appeared all over Algiers as well.) The third and most
poignant ad shows a youth who says to the camera, "My father
has been killed by terrorists, but I think that the time has
come to forgive." The radio spots largely feature songs on
national reconciliation mixed with testimonies from victims
and all with the same voice-over conclusion, "We have to do
this for Algeria. For our country, let us vote for national
reconciliation." No coverage has been afforded in
electronic media to the dissenters. Post contacts note that
average Algerians overwhelmingly rely on radio and television
for their news, so the favorable coverage of the initiative
in the electronic media should have a direct impact on the
outcome of the referendum.


8. (U) For the most part, the political parties, both those
comprising the Presidential Alliance (FLN, RND, MSP) and the
opposition, united behind Bouteflika's speech and the Charter
for Peace and National Reconciliation. The following are
notable quotes from statements or communiques issued by the
main political party:

-- National Liberation Front (FLN) - "It is an extremely
laudable project, and is for sure the only way out from the

-- Democratic National Rally (RND) - "The RND will completely
back the President's project."

-- Society of Peace Movement (MSP) - "The national
reconciliation charter will definitely turn the page on the
black decade."
-- Opposition Islamist Islah Party (National Reform Movement
Party) - "We welcome the project with satisfaction, but want
to point out that we were the first ones to talk about
national reconciliation."

-- Far left Labor Party - "The Labor Party will call on all
its members to vote for the charter, with the hope that
stability will come back to the country."

-- Berber-dominated opposition Front des Forces Socialist
(FFS) - "The Charter is a very confusing document, which
looks more like a compromise between the decision-makers than
anything else."

-- Rally for Democracy and Culture (RCD) - The leader of the
small Berber-based party opposes.

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

9. (C) Many of the non-governmental organizations (NGO)
representing the interests of the families of "disparus," or
the "disappeared," many of whom vanished or were killed by
security forces during the 1990's, disagreed strongly with
Bouteflika's speech. Even more critical were the families of
victims of terrorism. The victim's families see themselves
as twice victimized since they have lost a relative and feel
their right to justice has been denied. The following NGO's
provided us reaction on the Charter:

-- SOS Disparus (State) - "Truth should be a priority for the
President; nothing is said about telling us what happened to
our loved ones."

-- Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights - "The
President of the Republic has exculpated the army and the
security services from any responsibility for crimes against
humanity by declaring the State "responsible, but not
guilty," which is a judicial heresy. All criminals are equal
before the law, which a matter of legality and not morality."

-- Djazairouna - "After the implementation of the Civil
Concord, we expected to know more about its results, but
nothing of the kind happened. What is more shocking today is
that in the charter the notion of justice is completely

-- Somoud - "How can the President talk about compensation
when the 'prejudice' has not been defined? We are not
against peace but this charter is more a charter about
impunity than anything else. Did terrorists acknowledge
their crimes? It is for us, the victims, to forgive these
people, and that can be done only when the latter admit the
harm that they have caused to us. It looks like the
President is more concerned about reconciling the security
forces and the terrorists groups than 'taking real care of

10. (C) NGOs representing families of the victims are
launching an operation called "A Caravan Against Impunity,"
which will stop at cities and villages to argue that the
document proposed for ratification is a charter for impunity,
and not for peace, by "washing" the deeds of the security
forces on the one hand, and not holding accountable on the
other those responsible for thousands of deaths, abductions,
and rapes. The NGOs are seeking support from international
NGOs and institutions in their campaign.


11. (C) According to our contacts in Algiers, Annaba and
Oran, the citizens of these large urban centers are skeptical
as to whether the Charter will prove to be a decisive blow
against terrorist remnants or merely a short-term palliative
to a broader societal problem. Though the overall concept of
national reconciliation was outlined in Bouteflika's speech
and the Charter, the details of the impact on society are
still not clear. According to most Embassy contacts,
Algerians were expecting a more straightforward text, with
greater detail. As one teacher from Algiers said, "At least
the text on Civil Concord was clearer since we knew that
blood crimes were excluded from it, but this time no real
details were given."

12. (C) Despite the fact that collective massacres, rapes
and attacks with explosives in public places are excluded as
pardonable crimes under the Charter, judging by press reports
and the reaction of Embassy contacts, Algerians remain unsure
how to assimilate those individuals who killed but did not
commit one of the three excluded crimes. According to
several Embassy sources, many Algerians believe that
Bouteflika, in addressing those affected by the "national
tragedy," did not make a distinction between the victims of
terrorists and the terrorists who killed individual victims.
In the Charter, Bouteflika said he wants, "... to be
appointed to ask in the name of the nation the forgiveness of
all the victims of the national tragedy and thus seal peace
and national reconciliation." Algerians, maintain these
sources, believe that the President is asking for a blank
check, giving him too much authority and power to decide this