French Foreign Minister pays surprise visit to Algeria and calls for Paris-Algiers tensions to be eased

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Senior French diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian called on Wednesday for an easing of tensions with Algeria, during a surprise visit to Algiers after the repeated crises between the North African country and its former colonial power.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Le Drian said Algeria was an “essential partner for France”.

“I hope that our two countries will return together on the path of a peaceful relationship and look to the future,” he said.

“We hope that the dialogue we have relaunched today can lead to a resumption of political exchanges between our governments, going beyond the wounds of the past, which we must face, and the misunderstandings, which we must overcome. “

He expressed hope that the two would work together to bring stability to the neighbors of Algeria, Libya and Mali.

Relations between Algiers and Paris have been strained for much of the six decades since the former French colony gained independence after 130 years of occupation.

President Emmanuel Macron went further than his predecessors in admitting French abuses during colonial times.

But ties collapsed in October after Macron accused Algeria’s “politico-military system” of rewriting history and fomenting “hatred towards France.”

In remarks to descendants of independence fighters, reported by Le Monde, Macron also questioned whether Algeria had existed as a nation before the French invasion in the 1800s.

Coming a month after Paris decided to sharply reduce visa quotas for Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian citizens, the comments sparked a fierce reaction from Algeria.

The country has withdrawn its ambassador and banned French military planes from its airspace, which they regularly use to conduct operations against jihadist groups in West Africa and the Sahel region.

The comments also prompted Tebboune to boycott a major November summit in Paris on Algeria’s war-torn neighbor Libya, vowing that Algeria “would not take the first step” to restore relations.

Historical reconciliation

The dispute elicited a rare expression of contrition from the French presidency, which said it “regretted” the misunderstandings caused by the remarks.

A collaborator in Macron’s office said the French leader “has the utmost respect for the Algerian nation and its history and for the sovereignty of Algeria.”

The Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra, welcomed this declaration and finally represented Algeria at the conference on Libya.

Le Drian’s visit comes as Algeria prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence in March.

Macron, the first ruler of France born after the colonial era, made historical reconciliation a priority and the building of a modern relationship with the former colonies.

Earlier this year, he admitted that French officers tortured and killed Algerian lawyer Ali Boumendjel in 1957.

Macron also condemned in October “inexcusable crimes” during a 1961 crackdown on Algerian independence protesters in Paris, in which French police led by a former Nazi collaborator killed dozens of protesters and dumped their bodies in the Seine.

A report commissioned by the president from historian Benjamin Stora earlier this year called for a truth commission on the Algerian war, but Macron has ruled out offering a formal apology.

And as he seeks re-election next year, he is wary of providing ammunition to far-right nationalist opponents Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.

(AFP)

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