Issued on: 18/03/2022 – 08:07
France and Algeria’s signing of the Evian Accords on 18 March 1962 marked the end of nearly eight years of bloody conflict and paved the way for Algerian independence from France.
The peace agreement was signed in Evian-les-Bains, 60 years ago today, between representatives of the French government and the government-in-exile of the National Liberation Front (FLN).
The settlement called for an immediate ceasefire and ended the eight year bloody battle for Algerian independence, at least on paper.
Tough negotiations had been going on in secret for months.
They focused on four main areas: guarantees for the pied-noir settler population which wanted to remain in Algeria; sovereignty over the Sahara and its oil deposits; the status of France’s military bases and rights to nuclear testing on Algerian soil, and the framework governing future associations between France and an independent Algeria.
France managed to hold on to its oil extraction rights and nuclear testing sites, but the French remained deeply divided over handing over Algeria after 132 years of colonial rule.
The final agreement provoked controversy on both sides: hardliners on the French mainland thought too much had been handed to Algeria, while more radical factions of the FLN in Algeria thought they had obtained too little.
Nonetheless, for General Charles de Gaulle it was a victory.
“The measures have been adopted so that people can control their own destiny, “ he announced in a televised address.
A ceasefire was signed the following day.
And a few months later, in July, Algeria became independent following a referendum.
Half a million dead, or more
No precise figures are available for how many people were killed during the 1954-1962 conflict, but historians estimate some half a million civilians and combatants died, the vast majority Algerian.
Algerian authorities insist the figure is three times higher.
It took France nearly 40 years to officially acknowledge that “the events in North Africa” actually constituted a war.
And while France has made tentative attempts to heal the wounds, it still refuses to “apologise or repent” for 132 years of often brutal colonial rule.
In the space of a few months of independence, one million pieds-noirs, settlers of European extraction, fled to France.
They often ended up living alongside Algerian immigrants. Many would later become the backbone of the French far right.
Some Algerians who fought for the French, known as Harkis, were executed or tortured in Algeria, but their numbers are highly contested.
Another 60,000 ended up in squalid internment camps in France.
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Presidents’ takes on France’s recent past
Valery Giscard d’Estaing was the first French president to visit independent Algeria in April 1975.
His successor Francois Mitterrand said “France and Algeria are capable of getting over the trauma of the past” during a visit in November 1981.
Nicolas Sarkozy admitted the “colonial system was profoundly unjust”.
François Hollande called it “brutal” and in 2016 became the first president to mark the end of the war – causing outrage among his opponents.
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president born after the war, infuriated the right by calling the colonisation of Algeria “a crime against humanity” during his election campaign in 2017.
He said it was time France “looked our past in the face”.
Once president, Macron apologised to the widow of a young French supporter of Algerian independence, a communist who had been tortured to death by the French army in 1957.
Macron also admitted Algerian lawyer Ali Boumendjel was tortured and killed the same year, a murder French authorities had long denied.
After the January 2021 publication of a state-commissioned report on colonisation by Algerian-born French historian Benjamin Stora, Macron said “symbolic gestures” could help reconcile the two countries.
He also begged forgiveness from Harkis who had been “abandoned” by France.
But Macron has rejected calls for France to “apologise or repent” for its time in Algeria.
He sparked a major rift in late 2021 after he accused Algeria’s post-independence “political-military system… (of) totally rewriting” the country’s history.
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Two weeks later he described the 1961 massacre of scores of Algerian protesters in Paris by French police as “an inexcusable crime”.
In January 2022 he also recognised two 1962 massacres of pieds-noirs who opposed Algerian independence by French forces, as well as the deaths of anti-war protesters killed by Paris police the same year.