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Algerian War of Independence

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Algerian War of Independence (1954 - 1962) was a period of guerilla strikes, terrorism, counter-terrorism and riots between French army and colonists in Algeria and FLN and other pro-independence Algerians.

Algeria was originally conquered by Napoleon in 1808. After 1830, France begun to settle Algeria as a colony and encouraged settlement after 1848. Country became a departement of France and French government regarded it being part of the republic, just on the other side of the Mediterranean.

The main instigator of the struggle was Front de Libération Nationale[?] or FLN[?], who had headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. By 1954, when FLN became active in Algeria, France had already lost the colonies of Tunisia and Morocco. FLN may have been encouraged by French defeat in the Indo-China.

FLN's main rival – with the same goal of Algerian independence – was the National Algerian Movement (Mouvement National Algérien[?]MNA[?]) who mainly gained support in Algerian workers in France. FLN and MNA fought against each other both in France and Algeria for the full duration of the conflict.

November 1 1954 FLN launched their first attacks against French military installations, communications and police stations in Algeria and called for public support through radio.

The French government did not approve. French interior minister Francois Mitterrand stated that the only possible response was war. Moderate Algerian factions failed to encourage a negotiated solution. French settlers (called pied-noir[?]) moved to Algiers and called for stern countermeasures, including state of emergency[?], capital punishment for political crimes[?] and denouncement of all separatists[?]. FLN’s Ahmed Ben Bella[?] did not advocate moderate solutions, either. French pied-noir formed vigilante units that killed suspected FLN sympathizers.

1955 new Gaullist[?] governor Jacques Soustelle[?] began a reform program carrying his name to improve conditions of the Muslim population. In August 1955, FLN guerillas killed 123 civilians in Philippeville. Soustelle declared sterner measures and all-out war began. In 1956 demonstrations of French colonists forced the French government to abolish an idea of reform.

Soustelle's successor, Governor General Robert Lacoste abolished the pied-noir-dominated Algerian Assembly and granted army widespread police powers to root out rebellion. In October 1956 he arrested FLN external political leaders. This made remaining rebel leaders harden their stance.

French intellectual Albert Camus, being born in Algeria, tried unsuccessfully to persuade both sides at least leave civilians alone. FLN considered him a fool, most pied-noirs a traitor.

Kamal Abdel Nasser[?]’s support to FLN angered French government; that was probably one of the reasons why they joined the British in an attempt to seize Suez Canal during Suez Crisis.

In 1956-1957 FLN guerillas numbered maybe 40.000, most of them on the other side of Moroccan and Tunisian borders. There was maybe up to 25.000 guerillas inside Algeria. They concentrated on nighttime hit-and-run attacks against military targets, pied-noir farms, mines and factories, transportation and communications. They captured and killed French soldiers, colonist, suspected collaborators and traitors in their thousands. FLN officers in different wilayas[?] also feuded among themselves and settled old scores with blood.

In September 30 1956 FLN began its urban campaign, so-called Battle of Algiers, with three bomb strikes in the city.

In 1957 FLN organized a general strike in Algeria at the same time that United Nations debate about Algeria began. General Jacques Massu answered with the attack of his paratroopers who broke the strike.

Massu’s troops fought FLN with terror methods of their own. They punished villages that were suspected of harboring rebels by attacking them by mobile troops or aerial bombardment (reminiscent of Nazi tactics against French Resistance) and gathered 2 million of rural population to concentration camps.

When this became public, French people began to question their role in Algeria. Pacification[?] had turned into a colonial war[?].

France already had 400.00 soldiers in Algeria, including French Foreign Legion, navy and air units and paratroopers. In all, about 50% of the French army was stationed in Algeria. They also included local Algerian irregulars called harkis who also used guerilla tactics. They numbered maybe 150.000. French also built electrified fences on borders of Tunisia and Morocco to separate the main FLN army from units inside Algeria.

1958 French army and pied-noirs demanded return of Charles De Gaulle. When De Gaulle returned to power, he apparently hoped to retain French Algeria and promised widespread reforms. He also tried to form a third, moderate side that would keep extremists on both sides in check.

FLN answered by setting up an Algerian government in exile, Gouvernement Provisionel de la République Algérienne or GPRA, in Tunis. Many countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Soviet Union and a number of Eastern European, Arabic, Asian and African states, recognized it.

By 1959 the French army claimed to have contained the rebel activity. However, mounting losses, anger of relatives of killed soldiers and revelations of torture made large segments of French people support national liberation.

In September 1958 De Gaulle begin to support “self-determination” for Algeria. He organized a referendum about his new constitution proposal. FLN tried to intimidate Algerians to boycott the referendum but 80% voted. 96% of them supported the new constitution. In February, De Gaulle was elected president of the French Fifth Republic.

Pied-noir and many units of the army felt that De Gaulle had betrayed their hopes. In January 1960 they organized a riot in Algiers and seized government buildings. De Gaulle answered by calling for the army to remain loyal and rallied support for his Algerian policy in TV. In Algiers general Challe defused the situation with loyal troops and imprisoned many extremist leaders. Remaining activist mounted a terror campaign of their own against the negotiated settlement of the war.

In April 1961 group of French generals – aided with elements of Foreign Legion and OAS – tried to take over but the attempt collapsed. Many of them were later accused of plans to assassinate De Gaulle. They only succeeded in ruining the reputation of both French army and pied-noirs. French government began talks with FLN in May 1961.

On October 17, 1961 when, after a peaceful march organized by the FLN, a large number of Algerian civilians were killed in Paris by the police. The exact number of the dead remains unknown but most historians agree on 200 deaths.

Eventually France announced that a cease-fire would begin at March 19 1962 and that there would be a French referendum in Algeria. OAS organized yet another terror campaign to provoke FLN to break cease-fire to restart the war but also targeted army and police that enforced the peace. They set off hundreds of bombs a day in places like hospitals. They failed and signed a truce with FLN on June 17 1962.

July 1 1962 referendum on Algerian independence was a definite affirmative. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria independent on July 3.

On March 18, 1962 France and Algeria signed an agreement ending the war.

Assumed total casualties of the war vary widely from Algerian claims of 1.5 million to French official 350.000. In addition, 5000 died in battles between FLN and its rivals in Europe.

1.4 million of the European-descended residents left Algeria – the first prior to the referendum. Departing pied-noirs destroyed their farms and factories and carried off public records. 30.000 chose to remain.

In 2001 General Aussaresses wrote in his book that he was proud to have ordered torture and execution of Algerians during the war. French president Jacques Chirac promptly stripped him of his Legion d'Honneur award.

See also : Organisation de l'Armée Secrète, History of Algeria

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