PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Algeria for a three-day official visit to tackle two major challenges: boosting future economic relations and healing wounds inherited from the colonial era, 60 years after the North African country gained independence from France.
The visit comes less than a year after a months-long diplomatic crisis between the two countries that has fueled post-colonial tensions and as the war in Ukraine cemented Algeria’s status as a key partner for gas supply to the European continent.
In recent years, Macron has taken unprecedented steps to recognize torture and killings perpetrated by French troops during Algeria’s 1954-62 War of Independence, in an effort to appease the still-spirited relations between the two countries. Still, the series of symbolic gestures has failed to garner an apology from France for its actions during the war — a long-standing demand from Algeria.
Macron will meet Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune on Thursday at the El Mouradia presidential palace.
In a phone call with Tebboune on Saturday, he said the trip will help “deepen the bilateral relationship,” the Elysée said. He expressed support from France after deadly forest fires in eastern Algeria.
This is Macron’s second time as president in Algeria. During a brief stop in December 2017, he called for a ‘partnership between equals’. Months before, during a trip to Algiers as a presidential candidate, he called colonization a “crime against humanity.”
Macron, the first French president born after the end of Algeria’s brutal seven-year war for independence in 1962, has promised that he will take into account the mistakes of the colonial era. The country was occupied by France for 132 years.
In 2018, Macron acknowledged the responsibility of the French state in the death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, in 1957, admitting for the first time that the military used systematic torture during the war. Later, he made an important decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to the war, amid other gestures.
Macron will meet with Tebboune on Friday in the presence of the French army chief and defense and foreign ministers to discuss peace and stability in the region, after France completed the withdrawal of its troops from Mali earlier this month. Paris still maintains troops in the wider Sahel region, with the heart of the operation moved to Niger.
Coordination with the Algerian authorities is crucial as the country shares long borders in the Sahara with Mali, Libya and Niger, trails used by smugglers and Islamist extremists, the Elysee stressed.
No energy supply or other major trade contract is expected during Macron’s trip, but the focus will be on future economic relations, according to the Elysee.
Algeria’s status as a major gas supplier to Europe has been bolstered amid fears that Russia could cut the pipelines. The North African country is the EU’s third largest gas supplier, accounting for 8.2% of the 27-nation bloc’s imports in 2021.
Algiers has already started increasing gas supply to the continent, mostly through two pipelines connecting the country to Italy and Spain. It signed a $4 billion gas deal with the American group Occidental Petroleum, the Italian Eni and the French giant Total.
Political scientist Mohamed Saidj told the AP he considers this the most important visit by a French president since 1975, as it comes after last year’s major diplomatic crisis.
Tensions between the two countries escalated after a French decision to cut the number of visas issued to people in North Africa, including Algeria, as governments there refused to take back migrants expelled from France.
Relations deteriorated further after Algeria recalled its ambassador to France citing alleged “irresponsible comments” attributed to Macron about Algeria’s precolonial history and postcolonial government system. In retaliation, Algeria accused Paris of “genocide” during the colonial era.
Both countries agreed to resume cooperation in December.
The visa situation will be discussed during Macron’s trip, the Elysee said. There are several million Algerian citizens or people of Algerian descent in France.
Last year’s tensions created a feeling of hostility towards France among Algerian public opinion, which was reflected in the authorities’ drive to replace the French language in schools and public administration with English.
The Elysee said Macron will also raise human rights issues, in a country where activists criticize an unjust governance system that views dissidents as criminals and does not allow freedom of expression.
Political analyst Hassan Moali stressed that the visit “should be an opportunity to clarify all issues and speak the truth. … France is indeed an economic partner, but the question of history remains key in bilateral relations.”
The French president will visit the Christian and Jewish cemetery of Saint-Eugene in Algiers on Friday. He will also visit the Grand Mosque.
Then he goes to Oran, the second largest city in the country, where he will attend a show of breakdance on Saturday, which will become an Olympic sport in Paris in 2024.
AP journalist Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed.
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