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Le Pen Tortured Algerians, reports <i>Le Monde</i> - 2002-06-03

A prominent newspaper has accused far-right French leader Jean-Marie Le Pen of presiding over the torture of Algerian resistance fighters during Algeria's war of independence from France, 1954-1962.

Published Monday by Le Monde, the torture accusations come at an awkward time for far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen. French legislative elections are just six days away, and some experts predict Mr. Le Pen's National Front Party may score well in parts of the country.

In detailed accounts given to the French newspaper from Algiers, four former Algerian resistance fighters said they were tortured with electric prods and forced to drink dirty toilet water during an overnight interrogation that took place in the midst of Algeria's war of independence from France.

They accuse Mr. Le Pen of presiding over the torture, which took place during the night of February 2-3, 1957. He served three months in Algeria, as a parachutist for the French army.

The torture allegedly took place at the men's homes in Algiers. At least one of the men's wives was raped, according to Le Monde, although Mr. Le Pen is not directly implicated in that deed.

In a television interview Sunday night, the 73-year-old National Front leader denounced the accusations as "the false defamation of terrorists." Mr. Le Pen also threatened to take Le Monde to court.

This is not the first time Mr. Le Pen has been implicated in torture in Algeria. And French judges have previously thrown out similar defamation lawsuits by Mr. Le Pen. But Le Monde's accounts are new in offering detailed, first-hand testimony by Mr. Le Pen's four alleged victims.

The newspaper's report is the latest in a growing number of stories of brutal behavior by the French army during Algeria's civil war. Such accounts continue to capture the headlines here, 40 years after Algeria won its independence.

But in Algeria, where 70 percent of the population is under 30 years old, many people say they have little memory, or interest in, France's colonial legacy.