First Published: 2017-12-06

Macron seeks warmer ties with Algeria
Ties between Paris and Algiers have defrosted in recent years, half-century after 1954-1962 war that left some 1.5 million Algerians dead.
Middle East Online

Macron is first French president to be born after Algerian War.

ALGIERS - French President Emmanuel Macron landed in Algeria on Wednesday for his first official visit, announcing that he came as a "friend" despite France's historically prickly relationship with its former colony.

Ties between Paris and Algiers have defrosted in recent years, a half-century after French forces brutally cracked down on independence fighters in a 1954-1962 war that left some 1.5 million Algerians dead.

Macron, the first French president to be born after the war, arrived in Algiers under bright sunshine, after stressing that he came as "a friend of Algeria, a constructive partner who wants to strengthen our links".

"I know the history, but I am not a hostage of the past," he told Algerian newspapers El Watan and El Khabar by phone ahead of his visit.

"But from now on, I hope... that we will turn together towards the future."

Macron was welcomed at the airport by Senate speaker Abdelkader Bensalah, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel.

He later laid a wreath at a monument in central Algiers to those killed in the war, and walked through the centre of the capital, talking with passers-by.

"We have a special story, there must be no taboo, I want the youth of Algeria to prosper with the help of France," he told a young Algerian.

"It's nice that a president speaks to us, we have never experienced this with ours," said Yassine, an onlooker in his thirties.

Macron was scheduled to visit Algeria's ageing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 that has affected his speech and mobility.

During his election campaign in May, the French leader called his country's colonial history a "crime against humanity", prompting criticism from some in France and praise from Bouteflika.

But on a recent trip to west Africa, Macon called for "neither denial nor repentance", stressing that "we cannot remain trapped in the past".

Many in Algeria hope he will announce France will hand back the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters, killed in the 1850s, which are held at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris.

- Security cooperation -

Paris is keen to build ties with Algeria, a key player in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel, and the region's crises are likely to figure in meetings with officials.

The Sahel, which stretches from Senegal to Sudan, has sunk into lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists overran northern Mali in 2012, and Boko Haram rose up in northern Nigeria.

France has praised Algeria's "experience in the fight against terrorism and radicalisation", a reference to its decade-long civil war in the 1990s.

Macron is due to host talks in Paris on December 13 on "speeding up deployment" of a five-nation anti-terrorism force in the region.

He touched a nerve in Algiers by choosing its regional arch-rival, neighbouring Morocco, for his first visit to the Maghreb.

But accompanied by artists and business executives on his Algiers mission, he hopes to boost economic ties.

In his interview with Algerian newspapers, he said: "Algeria must open up more, there are still many obstacles to investment." But he also pointed to "promising fields of cooperation" between the two countries.

France remains the largest foreign employer in Algeria although it is losing market share to other European countries and China.

On a visit to Algiers in November, French economy minister Bruno Le Maire said it was "time to raise the bar".

Macron is set to leave Algeria for Qatar on Wednesday evening.

 

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