France to declassify files on Algerian war archives

Charles de Gaulle’s abrupt decision to grant Algeria independence in 1962 led to assassination bids and attempted military coups. (AFP)

France will open up judicial archives on the Algerian war 15 years ahead of the stipulated declassification, the government announced on Friday, a move which could confirm the long-held allegations of torture by the French police and the gendarmerie against Algerian and French nationals.

French law provides for declassification of government documents labelled “confidential,” “secret” or “very secret” after a period of 50 years, Anadolu News Agency reports.

Culture Minister, Roselyne Bachelot, in an interview with BFMTV news broadcaster said she wants to open up access to the archives on the judicial investigations of the gendarmerie and the police in order for the French people to face the truth about the “disturbing questions” of the Algerian war.

“I want that on this question, which is disturbing, irritating and where there are falsifiers of history at work … I want us to be able to look it in the face” she said.

Questions pertaining to torture techniques employed by the French army and the police, leading to horrific killings and disappearances of thousands of civilians, part of the resistance movement, have been a subject of taboo.

Bachelot said it was “in the country’s interest to recognise it (torture).”

These include the cases of mathematician and Algerian Communist Party member, Maurice Audin, who was tortured and executed by the French army, and the events of 1961 when Paris police drowned hundreds of protesting Algerians in the Seine River with their hands tied behind their backs, or strangulated or wounded with bullets.

Audin’s family has long campaigned for the opening of the archives. In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged the torture and disappearance of Audin’s body and assured access to the archives. In October, he also condemned the Paris massacre and crimes by the French police as “inexcusable.”

The archives will also help establish the truth since “falsification of facts was leading to all the troubles and hatred,” the Minister said, adding it will help in “rebuilding and reconciling” relations with Algeria.

France’s relations with Algeria are defined by the 132-year-long colonial occupation that ended with a brutal war of independence in 1962.

The already fractious relations deteriorated further recently, after Paris reduced visa quotas for the former colonies in North Africa, and Macron accused the Algerian government of rewriting history and fomenting anti-French hatred.

The remarks sparked controversy, with Algeria recalling its Paris envoy, and suspending the use of its airspace by French military planes to carry out operations in West Africa.

The announcement of declassification of the archives is also part of the memorial reconciliation project initiated by the Macron government to honour the lives of Algerians who fought in the war.

He also officially recognised the torture and murder of Algerian revolutionary leader, Ali Boumendjel, by the French army, and sought “forgiveness” from the Harkis (Muslim Algerians who served as auxiliaries in the French Army during the war) and their descendants.

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