French defence minister in historic visit to Algeria

16th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 16 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will make an official visit to Algeria this weekend, the latest in a series of high-level trips by French officials aimed at bolstering bilateral relations.

PARIS, July 16 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie will make an official visit to Algeria this weekend, the latest in a series of high-level trips by French officials aimed at bolstering bilateral relations.  

When Alliot-Marie arrives in the former French colony, she will be the first French defence minister to make an official visit there since the end of the 1954-1962 war for Algeria's independence.  

On Saturday and Sunday, she is scheduled to meet with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other top officials for talks on the fight against terrorism and security in the Mediterranean region, aides to the minister said.  

Alliot-Marie is also due to meet intellectuals and other members of civil society, including women's groups, the aides said.   Earlier this week, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier spent two days in Algeria, on the heels of a trip last month by Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. President Jacques Chirac made a state visit to Algeria last year, and a lightning visit in April.  

"This trip has a very high symbolic value," said a top-level French defence ministry official. "The time had come for such a visit, which is a very strong indicator of the normalization of bilateral relations."  

But one diplomat noted: "The scars have not completely healed on either side: when one talks about the French army in Algeria, that brings back some memories. And on the French side, it touches a raw nerve."  

France ruled Algeria for 132 years before granting it independence in 1962 following a brutal guerrilla war that claimed an estimated 100,000 French and one million Algerian lives.  

The two countries now maintain close relations, and a significant number of France's estimated five million Muslims come from Algeria.   France is Algeria's main trading partner, and Paris thinks the time has come "to see what we can do together in the area of defence," officials here said.  

During Alliot-Marie's visit, France and Algeria are expected to sign a defence cooperation agreement, which would seek to develop bilateral exchanges of military personnel and the prospect of joint exercises in the Mediterranean.  

The independent Algerian press speculated that the series of high-level French visits was aimed at maintaining France's influence in Algeria, and at keeping the north African country from moving into Washington's orbit.  

Raising the prospect of a "race between the United States and France for strategic positioning," the newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran said the French and Algerian militaries "have kept few ties, if any."  

"Twenty-nine years of no dialogue between two countries that face each other... That void was filled by American soldiers who have shown a certain aggressiveness in their approach," the paper said.  

Barnier denied any "Franco-American rivalry" in an interview before his visit, but the United States and Britain head a long list of possible military suppliers for Algiers, which currently is using Russian-built MiG fighter jets.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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