French FM calls for easing of tensions with Algeria

French foreign minister calls for easing of tensions with Algeria during surprise visit to Algiers
3 min read
08 December, 2021
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called for an easing of tensions with Algeria following a series of heated episodes between the two nations over France's colonial occupation of the North African country.
The French foreign minister said the two countries should move beyond 'misunderstandings' and 'wounds of the past' [source: Getty]

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

Addressing journalists after meeting Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Le Drian said the countries should move past "misunderstandings" and "wounds of the past".

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

He voiced hope that both would work together to bring stability to Algeria's neighbours, Libya and Mali.

Relations between Algiers and Paris have been strained for much of the six decades since the former French colony won its independence after a 130-year occupation.

French President Emmanuel Macron has gone further than his predecessors in owning up to French abuses during the colonial era.

But ties collapsed in October after Macron accused Algeria's "political-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 citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, those comments sparked a fierce reaction from Algeria.

The country withdrew its ambassador and banned French military planes from its airspace, which they regularly use to carry out 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 neighbour Libya, vowing that Algeria would "not take the first step" to repair ties.

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

An aide from Macron's office said the French leader "has the greatest respect for the Algerian nation and its history and for Algeria's sovereignty."

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra welcomed that statement and, in the end, represented Algeria at the Libya conference.

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

Macron, France's first leader born after the colonial era, has made a priority of historical reconciliation and forging a modern relationship with former colonies.

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

Macron also in October condemned "inexcusable crimes" during a 1961 crackdown against Algerian pro-independence protesters in Paris, during which French police led by a former Nazi collaborator killed dozens of demonstrators and threw their bodies into the river Seine.

A report commissioned by the president from historian Benjamin Stora earlier this year urged a truth commission over the Algerian war but Macron ruled out issuing any official apology.