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More than 80 Algerian rebels surrender in amnesty

Written by: Staff
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ALGIERS, Apr 17 (Reuters) More than 80 Algerian Islamist fighters have surrendered under an amnesty aimed at restoring peace after more than a decade of civil strife, the country's interior minister said in comments published today.

''More than 80 terrorists have surrendered,'' government-backed newspaper El Moudjahid quoted Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni as saying during a visit by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to the eastern city of Constantine on Sunday.

Zerhouni said recently that some 800 rebels were still active.

It is six weeks since Algeria implemented the amnesty, which gave rebels still fighting six months to surrender and receive a pardon provided they were not involved in massacres, rapes and bombings of public places.

Compensation has been offered to victims of the conflict, to families of people who disappeared and to individuals who lost their jobs because they were believed to be associated with militancy.

The plan also foresees aid for families of rebels killed in the fighting.

The government started releasing 2,629 Islamists in early March as part of the reconciliation move.

Oil and gas exporter Algeria plunged into conflict in early 1992 after the then military-backed authorities scrapped a parliamentary election that radical Islamists were set to win.

The violence claimed around 200,000 lives and billion in economic losses due to a sabotage campaign by Islamist rebels.

On April 7, militants rejecting the latest peace offer shot dead 13 customs agents in the worst attack in weeks.

''The armed groups will be defeated with God's will,'' Bouteflika said in a speech in Constantine.

Many Algerians credit Bouteflika with bringing stability and peace since he first came to office in 1999. Hundreds of Islamist guerrillas have given themselves up since an earlier, partial amnesty in January 2000.

With the violence subsiding and oil prices soaring, Algeria last year launched an billion, five-year plan to spur economic growth and create much-needed jobs, backed up by foreign exchange reserves of more than billion.

REUTERS CH PM2305

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