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Defamation Trial Over Algerian Rights Violations Opens in Paris - 2002-07-01

A trial opened in Paris Monday focusing on accusations made in France that Algeria's military committed human rights violations during the country's civil war in the 1990s. The plaintiff, Algeria's former defense minister, argues the allegations are part of a deliberate smear campaign.

Algeria's former defense minister, Khaled Nezzar, says he launched the trial to defend his honor, and that of Algeria's military. General Nezzar has pressed defamation charges against a former Algerian army officer, Habib Souaidia, who published a controversial book called "The Dirty War." The book accuses Mr. Nezzar of presiding over thousands of tortures, killings and disappearances during clashes between Islamist guerrillas and the Algerian military in the 1990s.

The defense minister's lawyer, Jean-Rene Farthouat, says the lawsuit does not directly relate to the book but to similar accusations Mr. Souaidia has made on French television. "Mr. Farthouat says the charges against Algeria's military amounted to a so-called 'vast operation of destabilization,'" Mr. Farthouat commented. "He says Mr. Souaidia has been manipulated by those who want to dishonor Mr. Nezzar and the military."

In the book, Mr. Souaidia recounts tortures, summary executions and civilian massacres he claims the military committed during the early 1990s. He now lives in exile in France. But earlier this year, he was sentenced to prison in absentia by an Algerian court for allegedly undermining the Algerian army and security forces.

Francis Perrin, president of Amnesty International in France, says Mr. Souaidia's sentence is part of a pattern by the Algerian government to silence its critics. "Amnesty is not in a position to be able to confirm all the allegations in the book by Mr. Habib Souaidia," Mr. Perrin conceded. "But we are very disturbed by recent and not so recent developments in Algeria concerning either human rights defenders, or people who try to get the truth about vast disappearances, or about the so called 'dirty war' between the armed forces and the armed Islamist groups."

The trial is scheduled to run all week, and Mr. Nezzar is expected to be present during the proceedings.