Algeria buries remains of anti-French fighters, seeks Paris apology

1 / 2
A convoy of coffins containing the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters heads towards their final resting place at El-Alia cemetery on July 5, 2020. (AFP)
2 / 2
A convoy of coffins containing the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters heads towards their final resting place at El-Alia cemetery on July 5, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 05 July 2020

Algeria buries remains of anti-French fighters, seeks Paris apology

  • The skulls of the fighters were laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at El Alia cemetery
  • The coffins draped with the national flag were lowered into freshly dug graves in the martyr’s square of Algeria’s largest burial ground

ALGIERS: Algeria on Sunday buried the remains of 24 resistance fighters returned from Paris after more than a century and a half as it marked the 58th anniversary of its independence from France.
The skulls of the fighters, shot and decapitated in the early years of the French occupation, were laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at El Alia cemetery.
The coffins draped with the national flag were lowered into freshly dug graves in the martyr’s square of Algeria’s largest burial ground, alongside national heroes such as top revolt leader Emir Abdelkader.
An elite unit of the Republican Guard presented arms while a funeral march played in the background, an AFP correspondent reported.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who took part in the ceremony alongside other officials, on Saturday said it was time to turn a page on years of frosty relations with France, calling on Paris to apologize for its colonial past.
“We have already had half-apologies. The next step is needed... we await it,” he told news channel France 24 in an interview.
An apology was necessary to “face the problem of memory that jeopardizes many things in the relations between the two countries,” Tebboune said.
It would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for the more than six million Algerians who live in France, he added.
The skulls, once viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers, were flown into Algiers international airport on Friday and then moved to the Palace of Culture where they were placed on display.
Despite stifling heat, a long queue formed outside the palace and some men and women, waiting to pay their respects, wept, according to footage broadcast by several television stations.
“I came as a fighter, as an invalid from the war of libration, as a citizen who loves his country,” said Ali Zemlat.
The 85-year-old fought in the brutal 1954-1962 war that ended France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria.
The skulls had been stored since the 19th century in the vaults of the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, which specializes in anthropology.
Among the remains were those of revolt leader Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated, and those of his comrades who had met the same fate.
Algeria had officially asked for their return in 2018, as well as requesting the handover of colonial archives.
The restitution of the skulls has been seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between Algeria and the former colonial power, marked since independence by recurrent tensions.
The French presidency, in a statement to AFP, said the return of the remains was a gesture of “friendship” and part of efforts to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people.”
The repatriation comes amid a global reexamination of the legacy of colonialism, sparked by the May killing of unarmed African American George Floyd by a white police officer.
His murder sparked protests across the world, and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination.”
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president to be born after the 1954-62 independence war in which 1.5 million Algerians died, made his first official visit to Algiers in December 2017.
At the time, he told news website Tout sur l’Algerie that he was “ready” to see his country hand back the skulls.
During his presidential election campaign, Macron had created a storm by calling France’s colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity.”


Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

Updated 32 min 5 sec ago

Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

  • A satellite image Monday shows the site cleared away with what appears to be construction equipment there
  • Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies say they believe the site is undergoing excavation

DUBAI: Iran has begun construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, satellite images released Wednesday show, just as the UN nuclear agency acknowledged Tehran is building an underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack last summer.
The construction comes as the US nears Election Day in a campaign pitting President Donald Trump, whose maximum pressure campaign against Iran has led Tehran to abandon all limits on its atomic program, and Joe Biden, who has expressed a willingness to return to the accord. The outcome of the vote likely will decide which approach America takes. Heightened tensions between Iran and the US nearly ignited a war at the start of the year.
Since August, Iran has built a new or regraded road to the south of Natanz toward what analysts believe is a former firing range for security forces at the enrichment facility, images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs show. A satellite image Monday shows the site cleared away with what appears to be construction equipment there.
Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies say they believe the site is undergoing excavation.
“That road also goes into the mountains so it may be the fact that they’re digging some kind of structure that’s going to be out in front and that there’s going to be a tunnel in the mountains,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the institute who studies Iran’s nuclear program. “Or maybe that they’re just going to bury it there.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, last month told state television the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz.”
Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his inspectors were aware of the construction. He said Iran had previously informed IAEA inspectors, who continue to have access to Iran’s sites despite the collapse of the nuclear deal.
“It means that they have started, but it’s not completed. It’s a long process,” Grossi said.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned those limits as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.
Iran now enriches uranium to up to 4.5% purity, and according to the last IAEA report, had a stockpile of 2,105 kilograms (2.32 tons). Experts typically say 1,050 kilograms (1.15 tons) of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched up to weapons-grade levels of 90% purity for one nuclear weapon.
Iran’s so-called “breakout time” — the time needed for it to build one nuclear weapon if it chose to do so — is estimated now to have dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, though Western countries fear Tehran could use it to pursue atomic weapons.
Natanz, built underground to harden it against airstrikes, long has been at the center of those fears since its discovery in 2002. Centrifuges there still spin in vast halls under 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete. Air defense positions surround the facility in Iran’s central Isfahan province.
Despite being one of the most-secure sites in Iran, Natanz was targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus — believed to be the creation of the US and Israel — before the nuclear deal.
In July, a fire and explosion struck its advanced centrifuge assembly facility in an incident Iran later described as sabotage. Suspicion has fallen on Israel, despite a claim of responsibility by a previously unheard-of group.
There have been tensions with the IAEA and Iran even at Natanz, with Tehran accusing one inspector of testing positive for explosives last year. However, so far inspectors have been able to maintain their surveillance. something Lewis described as very important.
“As long as they declared to the IAEA in the proper time frame, there’s no prohibition on putting things underground,” he said. “For me, the real red line would be if the Iranians started to stonewall the IAEA.”
For now, it remains unclear how deep Iran will put this new facility. And while the sabotage will delay Iran in assembling new centrifuges, Lewis warned the program ultimately would regroup as it had before and continue accumulating ever-more material beyond the scope of the abandoned nuclear deal.
“We buy ourselves a few months,” he said. “But what good is a few months if we don’t know what we’re going to use it for?”