ALGIERS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday made his first official visit to Algeria, announcing that he came as a “friend” despite France’s historically prickly relationship with its former colony.
Ties between Paris and Algiers have defrosted in recent years, a half-century after French forces brutally cracked down on independence fighters in a 1954-1962 war that left some 1.5 million Algerians dead.
Macron, the first French president to be born after the war, told news website Tout sur l’Algerie that he was “ready” to see his country hand back the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters killed in the 1850s, which are held at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
Algerian and French academics have long campaigned for the return of the 37 skulls, a symbolic hangover from France’s 130-year occupation of Algeria.
Macron arrived in Algiers under bright sunshine on Wednesday after stressing that he came as “a friend of Algeria, a constructive partner who wants to strengthen our links”.
“I know the history, but I am not a hostage of the past,” he told Algerian newspapers El Watan and El Khabar by phone ahead of his visit. “But from now on, I hope... that we will turn together towards the future.”
Macron was welcomed at Algiers airport by Senate speaker Abdelkader Bensalah, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel.
He later laid a wreath at a monument in central Algiers to those killed in the war, and walked through the centre of the capital, talking with passers-by.
Macron was scheduled to visit Algeria’s ageing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 that has affected his speech and mobility.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017