Top Algerians Prefer Amnesia to Accountability on War

Emerging from years of civil war that left more than 100,000 dead and thousands more unaccounted for, Algeria is not alone in the world as it tries to figure out how to get beyond a brutal past. History is filled with wrenching stories of neighbors killing neighbors in nations divided along ideological, ethic and religious lines.

But where other nations, like South Africa, Rwanda, Argentina and even the former Soviet Union, have promoted reconciliation through public debate and public disclosure of past deeds, Algerian officials are offering a different approach: they are essentially asking their people to forget.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been aggressively campaigning for a month to persuade Algerians to approve his Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, a document that offers a little for everyone. There is amnesty for Islamists who committed all but the most heinous of crimes, exoneration for military and security forces, and money for the families of victims of the violence and for the families of those who disappeared, often at the hands of security forces and government-armed militias.

"Reconciliation, in my view, must protect us from experiencing once again the two evil phenomena of terrorist violence and extremism, which brought us misfortune and destruction," the president said in a nationally televised address last month.

But what the charter, to be judged Thursday in a referendum, does not offer is answers or accountability. And that has prompted many human rights organizations, opposition political leaders, and families of those who have disappeared, to criticize the referendum as, at best, a half step toward reconciliation.

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