Algerians vote on plan to halt civil war

The people of Algeria will decide on Thursday whether or not to accept an amnesty proposed by the Government that aims to draw a line under a decade of a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Today's referendum, dubbed the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, is expected to produce a "Yes", but opposition groups and human rights campaigners have expressed extreme doubts about the measure because they say it will absolve both sides for crimes committed during the war.

More than 18 million people are eligible to vote on the amnesty, a long document that offers immunity to Islamist rebels who have fought the government since 1992 and compensation for the families of les disparus, or the "disappeared", the estimated 10,000 people kidnapped and killed by government forces.

Despite the broad pardon, anyone who took part in a massacre, rape or bomb attack in a public place during the civil war will still face judicial proceedings, reports Times Online.

According to CNN, "The campaign has been monopolized by authorities," said Nour Eddine Benissad, an attorney for the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. "We needed a democratic debate."

Bouteflika has crisscrossed Algeria for weeks, addressing rallies to call out the "yes" vote so the nation can reconcile itself with what authorities refer to as the "national tragedy." He asked living victims to accept a "new sacrifice in the interest of the nation."

The insurgency started when the army canceled the January 1992 second round of voting in Algeria's first multiparty legislative elections to thwart a likely victory by the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front.

Daily beheadings and massacres committed by Islamic extremists followed. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed. There were also strong accusations that government security forces had an at least passive role in some of the bloodshed. Victims' families contend that security forces were responsible for many of the thousands of people who disappeared.

Sporadic violence continues. Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said this week that 800-1,000 insurgents remained active.


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