By Cindi Cook
PARIS (AA) - In a diplomatic move toward reparation, France’s president on Monday asked for forgiveness for his country’s treatment of a group of Algerian fighters who stood with the French during the 1954-1962 Algerian War of Independence.
Meeting with 300 surviving members of the Algerian Harkis, their families, and heads of associations at the Elysee in Paris, Emmanuel Macron said that today’s meeting would be the “start of reparations,” according to French outlet France24, and “a new step” in acknowledging France’s role in the Harkis’ widespread suffering in the aftermath of the war.
“Harki” is derived from the Arabic “haraka”, or movement, aptly describing the group of Muslim Algerians who volunteered alongside the French army. Up to 200,000 men took their place as auxiliaries during the conflict.
“To the combatants, I want to express our recognition, we will not forget. I ask forgiveness, we will not forget,” said Macron, adding that his country “neglected its duties toward the Harkis, their wives, their children.”
Macron then pledged to carry out a law for reparations.
Harki support groups had already written a letter to the president asking for such a law to be put into effect by the end of 2021. The groups also requested that reparation payouts already in place be stepped up.
After the war ended, thousands of Harki fighters who returned to Algeria were branded traitors and suffered brutal condemnation and even killing at the hands of the new government.
Many of those who remained in France were placed in internment camps, sometimes with family in tow, where conditions were traumatizing and deplorable.
In 2016 then-President Francois Hollande most recently acknowledged the pain and long-overdue need for redress to the Harki community, putting forth “the responsibility of the French government in the abandonment of the Harkis.”
An annual Day of National Recognition was also put in place starting on Sept. 25, 2001 when then-President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the suffering of the group during the Algerian War.