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France's Macron announces 'new page' in Algeria ties

France's Macron announces 'new page' in Algeria ties

25 August 2022

Algiers (AFP) -

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a 'new page' in ties with Algeria on Thursday, the first day of a three-day visit aimed at mending ties with the former French colony months after it marked 60 years of independence.

Macron's office said his visit aims to 'lay a foundation to rebuild and develop' a sometimes difficult relationship with the North African nation after a particularly tense few months.

'We didn't choose the past, we inherited it,' he said at a joint press conference on Thursday evening alongside Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

'We must look at it and recognise it, but we have a responsibility to build our future for ourselves and our youth,' said Macron, the first French president to be born since Algerian independence in 1962.

Tebboune hailed the 'positive dynamic' in the countries' ties, saying there were 'promising prospects for improving the special partnership that binds us'.

Macron had landed earlier at Algiers' main airport where he was warmly greeted by Tebboune and a military band that played both national anthems.

Later, the French leader visited a monument to martyrs of Algeria's war for independence, laying a wreath at the site and observing a minute of silence.

The French president announced Thursday evening that the two countries would set up a joint French-Algerian commission of historians to study archives on France's 130 years of colonial rule in Algeria, including the devastating eight-year independence war.

'We have a common (but) complex and painful past,' said Macron, adding that the researchers would have full access to the archives.

Ties between Paris and Algiers have seen repeated crises over the years.

They had been particularly stormy since last year when Macron questioned Algeria's existence as a nation before the French occupation and accused the government of fomenting 'hatred towards France'.

Tebboune withdrew his country's ambassador in response and banned French military aircraft from its airspace.

But Macron's office said he 'regretted' the misunderstandings caused by his comments, and his aides believe both sides have moved on, noting the resumption of normal diplomatic relations and overflights to French army bases in sub-Saharan Africa.

- Reconciliation 'political necessity' -

The French leader, on his second visit to Algeria since he took power in 2017, 'has chosen to direct this visit towards the future, (focusing on) start-ups, innovation, youth, new sectors,' his office said.

Algerian media said Macron's visit showed both countries' desire for relations built around 'a new vision based on equal treatment and balance of interests'.

Analyst Mansour Kedidir said that 'given instability in the Maghreb region, conflicts in the Sahel and the war in Ukraine, improving ties between France and Algeria is a political necessity'.

Tebboune said he and Macron had discussed how to bring stability to Libya, the Sahel region and the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss boosting Algerian gas deliveries to Europe to help fill the vast shortfall following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

European nations are seeking to end their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, giving Algeria -- Africa's biggest gas exporter with direct pipelines to Spain and Italy -- renewed clout.

'The French president will certainly ask Algeria to make an effort to try to increase its gas production,' said Algerian economist Abderrahmane Mebtoul.

Macron's office has said gas is not a major feature of the visit -- although the head of French energy firm Engie, Catherine MacGregor, is in Macron's delegation.

Energy expert Geoff Porter of North Africa Risk Consulting wrote that Macron's trip had at least two aims: 'feeling out Algeria?s energy sector stability and potential additional export capacity... and trying to woo Algiers away from some of its other diplomatic relationships' including Russia and China.

- 'Different discourse' -

Macron has long ruled out issuing an apology for the highly sensitive issue of colonialism, but he has made a series of gestures aimed at healing past wounds.

In Algiers, few have much sympathy towards Macron, who during his first election campaign had described French colonialism as a 'crime against humanity'.

'Before he was president, he used nice words, he visited (Algeria), but right after he went back to France, he changed,' said computer scientist Othmane Abdellouche, 62.

'He used a totally different discourse'.

French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died during Algeria's bloody war for independence, 400,000 of them Algerian. The Algerian authorities say 1.5 million were killed.

Tebboune's office said in October that over 5.6 million Algerians were killed during the colonial period.