- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in a significant gesture to his nation's Berber minority, has agreed to accept its Tamazight language as one of Algeria's official tongues.
The recent move reflects an effort to bring calm to the Arab nation that has been wracked by Muslim insurgents and a separate effort by Berbers to win autonomy.
The president said the Tamazight language reflected part of the Berbers' "national heritage and identity."
At the same time, he warned that "it is the duty of the state to preserve peace anywhere on the national territory and under all circumstances."
The Berbers, a minority in heavily Arab Northern Africa, constitute about 20 percent of Algeria's 30 million people.
The situation in the predominantly Berber region of the Kabylia mountains east of Algiers has been tense since April last year when pro-autonomy demonstrations swept the area.
The government's repression by paramilitary gendarmes has left an estimated 100 dead and 3,000 injured and opened another wound in a country in the throes of a separate war against Islamic extremists.
According to one French analysis, "Kabylia is sinking in economic paralysis. The main roads are frequently blocked by demonstrators. While the gendarmes are confined to barracks, the area is taken over by banditry and racketeering."
Algerian officials said that because of insecurity, Kabylia probably would be excluded from legislative elections planned for May 30.
According to the Algiers French language daily Le Matin, "By announcing that legislative elections will take place without Kabylia, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has declared war on that region. It is a war that will come to an end only with his departure."
The newspaper added: "The president has demonstrated that he is not a visionary, just someone with ideas who does not carry them through."
Apart from the Berber issue, Algeria has been waging war against Islamic militants since January 1992, when the Algerian army forced the resignation of President Chadli Bendjedid and stopped parliamentary elections, fearing a victory by the Islamic opposition.
Ever since, Algeria has been reeling from one disaster to another. In a recent speech to the nation, Mr. Bouteflika said that in addition to the war against terror and the Berber unrest, "We have been hit by floods, earthquakes, drought and social diseases."
Referring to the Berber demonstrations in Kabylia and the government's efforts to suppress them, Mr. Bouteflika said: "I do not want to reveal here the frightening list of human losses."
He said the situation risked "dragging the region, indeed the whole country, toward an unwelcome hell."
He promised to punish police officers and paramilitary gendarmes who commit human rights abuses and to compensate families "who lost one of theirs."
At the administrative level, he said, 681 officers and gendarmes had been replaced.
"Legal action has been taken against gendarmes, and they have been jailed," Mr. Bouteflika said. "Hundreds of gendarmes have been removed from the concerned regions, and disciplinary measures have been taken."


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