EUROPEAN UNION AND ALGERIA

 

Sir, - I take issue with Mr Scott's support for the EU delegation's call for constructive engagement with the Algerian parliament (March 12th).

Any serious observer of Algerian society accepts that the real locus of power since independence has been the military and that no substantive change can take place without its approval. The FIS certainly knows it; in 1992 after that party had won an overwhelming majority in Algeria's first free and democratic elections it was the army who staged a coup d'etat, banned FIS and placed 10,000 of its members in concentration camps in the Sahara, thus precipitating civil war. Since then it has been the military that have been responsible for many - if not most - of the human rights violations that have left 80,000 people dead. The civil power represented by the National Assembly - the body the EU delegation met with - has shown complete unwillingness to accept a UN investigation into the massacres of civilians.

That institution came into being as a result of a series of elections from 1995 to 1997 which many observers, including The Irish Times, reported as rigged and fraudulent. On all occasions the FIS - the political party which 80 per cent of the electorate supported in 1991 - was not allowed to participate although it is committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict. This is the "democracy" which the EU supports.

While some form of diplomatic engagement is desirable even with the most repressive of regimes, the question should always be how best to promote real democracy. If we are to assume that the EU parliament is on the side of democratic change in Algeria rather than economic expediency or antipathy to Islam, then we must insist that constructive engagement go hand-in-hand with open criticism, an honest unprejudiced analysis of the situation and the unrelenting pursuit of justice and peace. That is the least the Algerian people deserve. - Yours, etc., Donnacha O'Brien

Waterloo Road, Dublin 4.