- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

PARIS A recent outburst of terrorism in Algeria during the holy month of Ramadan is worrying the French government, which fears that all of North Africa and France's own Muslim community could become targets.

The terror claimed more than 200 lives in Algeria during the Muslim holy month, which ended yesterday. Officials blame the violence on Islamic militants who oppose the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

French officials say the ability of the extremists to strike to such a degree demonstrates the failure of the "policy of national reconciliation" launched more than a year ago by Mr. Bouteflika.

One analyst at the French Institute of International Relations said that Mr. Bouteflika "initially believed that he could contain an acceptable level of violence by the Islamists," but that such a belief has been shattered.

The Algerian president also came under bitter attack by the vocal Algerian media, which accused him of being a failure.

"Bouteflika is responsible, his slogan of peace was useless," headlined the popular daily newspaper Al Watan.

"The national reconciliation has been a total failure," wrote Le Matin, another Algiers daily.

So far, Mr. Bouteflika has had little to say. During the autumn he preferred to concentrate on foreign-policy issues, seeking U.S. and other foreign investments and promising a "climate of peace."

American companies have invested some $3 billion in Algeria, most of it in oil-industry joint ventures. But said one American businessman, "a liberal economy can only succeed in a liberal political environment. In Algeria, we see fewer and fewer prospects for real stability."

Mr. Bouteflika recently revamped his government, appointing Ali Benflis as prime minister and Larbi Belkheir, a retired general, as minister of defense.

The army was given the task of extinguishing the revolt while Mr. Benflis was put in charge of measures aimed at national reconciliation.

Until the latest outburst of terrorism this month, Mr. Benflis claimed that "normality has won sufficiently to allow us to take the next step, that of economic reconstruction."

Algeria's oil and gas revenue is estimated at more than $13 billion annually and much of it is used for the military and security apparatus. The government itself to a great extent depends on the support of the military to assure the security of the oil fields.

Politically, Mr. Bouteflika is supported mainly by the daily newspaper El Moujahid, of the once-dominant National Liberation Front.

While successful in various foreign-policy ventures, such as mediating peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Mr. Bouteflika has yet to give the country security after eight years of Islamic terror.

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