- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

PARIS — Arabs who remained loyal to France throughout Algeria's bitter war of independence are bringing legal action against the French authorities for "crimes against humanity."

Known as "Harkis" — from the Arabic word harka (movement) — these pro-French Algerian military auxiliaries claim that despite official pledges, they were left to the cruelty of Algeria's victorious National Liberation Front, known by its French acronym FLN.

After the North African country's independence in 1962, FLN members and supporters massacred an estimated 150,000 Algerians accused of collaborating with the colonial power.

The legal action expected to start this month will cause more soul-searching in France, which until recently focused mainly on the French army's use of torture during the seven-year war that many French citizens would like to forget.

Surviving Harkis living in France say most of their compatriots were left behind by the departing French troops, disarmed and often pushed by force from truck convoys organized to take them to safety.

The victorious Algerian nationalists then paraded their mutilated prisoners from village to village before shooting them, burying them alive, or in some cases crucifying them.

The lawsuit, opening nearly 40 years after the end of the war, "will represent a return to dignity" for the men and women who at the time believed French promises, according to Emmanuel Altit, one of the lawyers handling the case.

Philippe Reulet, another lawyer acting for the Algerians, said the court action will reveal "why the promises to protect the Harkis were disregarded at the end of the war."

A spokesman for the association of the former Algerian auxiliaries said that no amount of money "can stop the nightmares we suffer even now."

The trial in Paris is unlikely to result in a specific verdict or in damages. But it will certainly air the grievances of the Algerian men and women who worked to make the official slogan of French victory in Algeria come true.

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