France’s Macron seeks ties with Algeria beyond ‘painful’ history

Relations with Algiers have become more important for Europe due to increased demand for gas during the war in Ukraine.

President Emmanuel Macron said France and Algeria must move beyond their “painful” shared history and look to the future as he paid a three-day visit to the former colony.

“We have a complex, painful common past and this has sometimes prevented us from looking to the future,” Macron said Thursday after meeting with his Algerian counterpart, President Abdelmadjid Tebon.

Speaking at a press conference, Tebboune responded by saying the visit had “encouraging results” and hoped it would “open new perspectives for partnership and cooperation with France”.

He said they discussed how to bring stability to Libya, the Sahel region and the disputed region of Western Sahara.

Relations between the two countries have been strained for decades due to French colonial rule in Algeria and a bitter war of independence in 1962.

Relations with Algiers have become more important for Paris as the war in Ukraine has increased European demand for North African gas, as well as migration across the Mediterranean.

European nations are looking to Algeria – Africa’s biggest gas exporter with direct pipelines to Spain and Italy – to end their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.

Meanwhile, Algiers is trying to capitalize on higher energy prices to lock in European investment.

Macron has tried several times to turn the page with his former colony. In 2017, before his election, he described French actions during the 1954-62 war that killed hundreds of thousands of Algerians as a “crime against humanity”.

The announcement gained him popularity in Algeria but was politically controversial in France, home to more than four million people of Algerian descent.

However, he caused a storm in Algeria last year when he refused to issue an official apology and suggested that an Algerian national identity did not exist before French rule.

He also accused Algeria’s ruling elite – still dominated by a generation fighting for independence – of rewriting the history of the independence struggle based on hatred of France.

Algeria withdrew its ambassador for consultations and closed its airspace to French aircraft, complicating the French military campaign in the Sahel.

Before meeting Tebon, Macron visited a memorial to Algerians killed in the war and laid a wreath there. He said the two governments would set up a joint committee of historians to study the archives of the colonial period.

French historians say half a million civilians and combatants died during Algeria’s bloody war of independence, 400,000 of them Algerians. Algerian officials say 1.5 million were killed.

Tebboune’s office said in October that more than 5.6 million Algerians were killed during the colonial period.

Algerian human rights groups have urged Macron not to ignore abuses by the government that came to power in 2019 after longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down.

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