Author:Morgan, Susie

Western governments have supported Algiers in its battle against Islamic militants even though the violence was sparked by the undemocratic crushing of an election. But the latest massacres have been so horrifying, they no longer feel they can accept Algiers' line that intervention would be "unacceptable interference"

Intense diplomatic pressure appears finally to be forcing the Algerian government to soften its adamant refusal to accept intervention in its handling of the civil war.

It has taken the worst massacres in six years of violence -- with an estimated 1,200 civilians murdered in recent weeks -- to provoke change.

All previous attempts to intervene have been rebuffed as "unacceptable interference" in internal affairs. The official line was encapsulated by the Algerian ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Behil, when he said his government was "already doing everything it can".

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan raised the issue, then Germany joined in. "We Europeans can no longer stand back and just let Algerians kill each other," commented one German diplomat. Canada, meanwhile, said it would send an envoy "to assess the situation". Britain, currently holding the presidency of the European Union (EU), said it was pushing for the dispatch of a delegation to Algiers at the earliest opportunity.

A representative of Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the office was preparing for a possible visit But it was the decision of France, the former colonial power, to urge Algeria to do more to protect its citizens against "acts of barbaric savagery" and to ask for more "clarity" over what was going on, that caused the most ructions.

Algeria and France have a difficult relationship because of the legacy of the independence war in the 1950s in which about a million Algerians died -- some just as gruesomely as today's victims -- and because, until very recently, Paris stood solidly behind the Algerian regime, even providing equipment and training.

France's statement marks a clear political change for Lionel Jospin's Socialist government. Perhaps significantly, France has stopped short of pinning the blame for all the attacks on Islamic militants.

A shift came in January when the EU reached agreement in principle on the dispatch of a mission.

Algerian Foreign Minister Abmed Attaf welcomed the mission, on condition that it was aimed at confronting terrorism.

The problem is, as European Commission spokesman Klaus van...

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