CHARLES KRAUSE: Some 60,000 people have died and thousands more have been injured as a result of the political violence that's consumed Algeria since 1992. Massacres, assassinations, and bombings have become a fact of daily life as Islamic militants battle Algeria's secular government for control of what was once one of North Africa's most peaceful and sophisticated countries.
The bombings began five years ago shortly after Algeria's first free election since it gained independence from France in the early 60's. Algeria's leading Muslim Party, called the Islamic Salvation Party, or FIS, won a stunning victory in the first round of voting.
But then Algeria's military-backed government voided the results and installed its own president to stop the religious party from taking power. Islamic militants have been battling the government ever since. Much of the violence has reportedly been initiated by a shadowy force called the Armed Islamic group, one of several armed guerrilla groups operating in the country today.
But the violence is not all one-sided. Government-sponsored militias have also retaliated, reportedly using air raids and torture as part of their campaign to crush the insurgency. Legislative elections last June, which the government won, did little to appease the militants. Meanwhile, international observers raised questions about the election's validity. The Islamic militants have benefitted from Algeria's troubled economy. Despite rich resources of oil and gas, the country suffers from both high inflation and high unemployment. It's estimated that at least a third of Algeria's young people have no jobs. Last week, at least one of the armed rebel groups called a truce scheduled to begin today. But it was unclear whether the political violence would, in fact, end.
JIM LEHRER: Phil Ponce takes the story from there.
PHIL PONCE: We now get two views: Mary-Jane Deeb is the editor of "The Middle East Journal." She was in Algeria in June monitoring the parliamentary elections for the United Nations. Andrew Pierre is a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. He's the co-author of the book "The Algerian Crisis: Policy Options for the West." Welcome both. Mr. Pierre, first of all, who do you think is doing these killings?
ANDREW PIERRE, Johns Hopkins University: The killing is coming from all sides but I would identify two elements who are opposite poles of this whole situation. First, of course, the armed Islamic group; they are not beholden to the FIS. They really are terrorists. They are responsible for most of the killing.
PHIL PONCE: And the armed Islamic group is the more militant of the two, as opposed to the Islamic Salvation Front?
ANDREW PIERRE: That's correct.
PHIL PONCE: The FIS, as you call it.
ANDREW PIERRE: The FIS, which also has a military wing, but that's--that military wing has called for the cease-fire. So the armed Islamic group--terrorists--and who have been at this for a long time now--but on the other end of the political spectrum you have the military, and there is an important element among the generals and their followers and military as a whole who do not want negotiations, who are trying to avoid and subvert negotiations. And there's no question that they too are involved in the killing not only in reprisals but perhaps arming local militias, who are killing innocent civilians.
PHIL PONCE: Mary-Jean Deeb, who do you think is doing the killing?
MARY-JANE DEEB, The Middle East Journal: Yes. I would basically agree with Andrew Pierre. What is worrying us is that the security forces are not intervening in the killing. Very often those killings take place very close to the capital, and, yet, security forces, which are called upon to come and stop the killings don't intervene. And so the question is: Why are they not intervening?
Who is giving the orders for them to stay put? And should that continue? And definitely, I would urge the Algerian government to take a much more active role in intervening when the massacres begin and not let them occur for hours running.
PHIL PONCE: So you agree that it's extremist forces on both sides, very right wing elements within the government and the more extreme of the two basic Islamic groups?
MARY-JANE DEEB: I would agree that the very extreme Islamist groups are involved and I would also see the security forces as allowing this to take place. Certain of the militias, which have been armed, which Andrew Pierre has mentioned, may certainly be behind some of the killings, yes.
PHIL PONCE: And what is it the Islamic groups want ultimately?
ANDREW PIERRE: Well, you have basically a civil conflict. And what the majority of the Algerians want is peace, employment, housing, education. They don't necessarily want an Islamic state a la Iran, but they haven't been able to develop that or get it in the past 25 years.
PHIL PONCE: But the Islamic parties, themselves, is that what they're ultimately pushing for, an Islamic state?
ANDREW PIERRE: I would say benign Islamic state. There are some extreme Islamists who would like to have a country like Iran, but I think that the flag of Islam--political Islam--has been held out and behind it are a lot of people who simply want to stop the war, have elections, have a peaceful society, and one which develops socially and economically.
PHIL PONCE: Mary-Jane Deeb, why have the killings intensified? Last week, about 200 people were killed, in the past few days about 100 people killed.
MARY-JANE DEEB: Well, I believe because the process of negotiations between the Islamists and the state, between the major Islamist group, the Front of Islamic Salvation, and the government is taking place.
In fact, the elections of June '97 brought into the government, into the parliament 103 Islamists that constitute about a quarter of the members of the lower house of parliament. Negotiations are taking place within the parliament legally and openly. Both sides have called for peace and for dialogue.
And so what we are seeing here, as Andrew Pierre has pointed out, are extremists who do not want this dialogue to take place, so the further the dialogue is going, the more the relations are being improved, the more atrocious the crimes are in order to derail the process of negotiations within government, and Islamist--
PHIL PONCE: Speaking of elections, is it fairly clear that the government's decision in 1992 to cancel those elections where one of the Islamic parties seemed poised to do well, that that was--the was a key event?
ANDREW PIERRE: That was a key event. The military took over and ever since we've had this terrible civil conflict. But I do not believe that we can get out--the Algerians can get out of the crisis into which they now have dug themselves deeply into by themselves. I think there's been too mush killing, too much hatred and so on, so I think this has now become an issue for the international community.
PHIL PONCE: Specifically which countries?
ANDREW PIERRE: Well, specifically France, which is a country which is most directly involved and has greatest responsibility.
PHIL PONCE: And the former colonial power.
ANDREW PIERRE: As the former colonial power. Secondly, outside the European Union--because after all if there is some greater instability and ferment in North Africa as a whole it will affect Southern Europe and, therefore Europe as a whole. The United States has an interest in trying to bring stability to the Western Mediterranean. The United Nations has an international organization, has a role to play, and indeed, the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, approximately two to three weeks ago suggested that the United Nations be involved.
He's offered his good services. There hasn't been much support for that from governments up to now, but I think it would be highly desirable that Kofi Annan be encouraged to appoint a special representative of the Secretary General to go and talk to the various parties and try to push the process of negotiation, or re-establish it, particularly as of today, since we now have a cease-fire hopefully in place.
PHIL PONCE: Mary-Jane Deeb, can you expand a little bit on why the United States has an interest in Algeria and what happens there.
MARY-JANE DEEB: There are a number of reasons. First of all, it's stability in the Mediterranean, the importance of trade in the Mediterranean would be disrupted if one would have major upheavals in Algeria--and that could happen--the whole issue of migration, Europe, and certainly France and Italy would again find major problems in dealing with migration from Algeria. There's the issue of gas, natural gas, long pipeline that joins Algeria to Europe through Morocco.
That could be disrupted if there were instability in Algeria and in the neighboring countries. Trade, the United States has $2 billion of investments in Algeria alone. So there are a number of reasons why it is important that Algeria--that the developers in Algeria move in a peaceful way.
PHIL PONCE: And specifically, what could the United States do?
ANDREW PIERRE: I think the United States with our European allies should follow a policy of persuasion and, if need be, pressure. Persuasion should be in the direction of persuading the Zarol government to have elections which encompass the FIS. The FIS were outlawed from all the elections the last five years.
PHIL PONCE: Again, that's the less extreme of the two Islamic groups.
ANDREW PIERRE: That's the less extreme; that's right. There should be free press, human rights should be observed, and generally democratic processes should be followed, but if that does not occur, if President Zarol, who's a negotiator, rather than one who wants to eradicate the extreme leftists or Islamists, if that does not occur, then I think the United States should follow a policy of pressure, along with our European allies. And we have instruments of pressure.
The French give now approximately $1 billion of aid in the form of credits and loans to the Algeria government. The European Union gives an equally sizeable sum in the way of trade agreements and so on, and credits and so on, to the Algerian government. There are economic leaders which the Europeans particularly have. We do not have economic leaders because our involvement is relatively modest, but we do have our position as a party, which has not been directly engaged thus far.
PHIL PONCE: Mary-Jane Deeb, is the United States pressure essential to peace there, or can peace happen without the United States putting this kind of pressure?
MARY-JANE DEEB: Well, peace can happen without the United States; however, the United States has an important role, and one of the things that the United States should be putting pressure on Algeria for is to have investigation into the massacres. There should be trials, not kangaroo trials, but real trials, public trials in which people are brought to justice.
Those crimes that are being committed are crimes against humanity. Women and children are being killed, and, therefore, if those trials cannot take place in Algeria, itself, then they should be brought up in front of the international court at the Hague as the crimes in Bosnia were brought into the international court in the Hague, and so we see that, for instance, South Africa has had to do the same to solve the problem.
PHIL PONCE: And with that, I thank you both.
ANDREW PIERRE: Thank you.