Macron announces France-Algeria historians commission to study 'painful' colonial past

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By Euronews  with AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respect after laying a floral wreath at the Martyrs Monument in Algiers on August 25, 2022.
French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respect after laying a floral wreath at the Martyrs Monument in Algiers on August 25, 2022.   -   Copyright  LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to open "a new page" in bilateral ties with Algeria, on the first day of his visit to the country which is designed to relaunch relations following longstanding tensions with France's former colony.

"We have a common past, it is complex, painful and it has sometimes prevented us from looking at the future," Macron said, calling for "great humility" in looking ahead.

The French president announced the creation of a "joint commission of historians, opening our archives and allowing us to look at the whole of this historical period, which is decisive for us, from the beginning of colonisation to the war of liberation".

This must be done "without taboos, with a willingness to work freely, historically, with full access to our archives", he stressed.

Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune welcomed "encouraging results" from discussions which allow "promising prospects to be drawn up in the special partnership which binds us".

The visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the end of the eight-year Algerian War and the proclamation of Algeria's independence in 1962.

On the delicate issue of visas granted by France to Algerians, the French president said the two countries were working together "to deal with the most sensitive security issues". Emmanuel Macron decided in 2021 to divide their number by two in the face of Algiers' reluctance to take back its nationals refused residency in France.

But he said, the discussions would not "prevent the deployment of a chosen mobility for our artists, our sportsmen, our entrepreneurs, our academics, our scientists, our associations, our political leaders, allowing us to build more common projects".

Russia's war in Ukraine was also raised, with Macron calling on Algeria to make "ending the war in Ukraine a common cause". Algeria has refrained from condemning its invasion by Russia and remains a close ally of Moscow.

"This crisis, all the crises that are the result of this war launched by Russia, whether they are humanitarian, diplomatic, food or energy crises, are profoundly destabilising the whole planet, and particularly the African continent, running the risk of shortages, and I believe that our responsibility is also to deal with them together," the French president said.

Tebboune said the two leaders also exchanged views on Libya, Mali, the Sahel and the Western Sahara, which "require joint efforts to consolidate stability in the region".

Algeria plays a central role in the region because of its long borders with Mali — from which the French army has just withdrawn — as well as Niger and Libya. Russia, its ally and main arms supplier, is also playing an increasing role in Africa.

Algeria — the largest gas producer in Africa and one of the top ten in the world — has also been in great demand from Europeans anxious to reduce their dependence on Russian gas since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The Elysée Palace said Algerian gas was "not really the subject of the visit" and there would be "no announcements of major contracts", although the head of the energy giant Engie is part of the official delegation accompanying the French president on his trip.

This is the second time Emmanuel Macron has visited Algeria as president, after a first visit in December 2017.

Relations between the two countries were then at a high point, with a young French president describing French colonisation as a "crime against humanity".

But they quickly turned sour and an apology for colonisation demanded by Algiers has not materialised.