Algeria’s powerful army chief is on a discreet but extraordinary official visit to Paris, the first by a top-ranking Algerian general since independence from France more than six decades ago.
The Elysee Palace said General Said Chanegriha met with President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu.
Chanegriha was invited by his French counterpart, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thierry Burkhard, who met him during Macron’s visit to Algeria last August. The French President was on a mission to try to heal wounds and seek a measure of reconciliation after 132 years of France as a colonialist.
Algeria had a special status of the French colonial empire, which made it part and parcel of France. Relations between the two countries have been strained since Algeria gained independence in 1962 after a brutal seven-year war.
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Chanegriha’s visit was low-key with no official announcement by the French in contrast to the Algerian authorities.
The Algerian Defense Ministry said Chanegriha conveyed a message from President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to Macron during Monday’s meeting, without disclosing its content. Tebboune is expected to move to Paris later this year.
French Defense Minister and General Burkhard were present at the meeting with Macron.
The two countries have mutual military concerns, particularly in the volatile Sahel region bordering southern Algeria where French troops are fighting Islamic extremists. The French are also deeply concerned about increasingly bitter relations between Algeria and neighboring Morocco over Western Sahara, where Algerian-backed rebels are demanding independence in the region claimed by Rabat.
Chanegriha was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the prestigious military institute Ecole Militaire on Monday. A Monday tweet from Burkhard with photos of the ceremony disappeared Tuesday.
In Algeria, the military also plays a major role behind the scenes. Chanegriha’s predecessor, Ahmed Geid Salah, helped oust now-deceased President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in 2019, amid months of peaceful protest marches marking his 20 years in power.
Ged Salah visited Paris in 2006, but in an unofficial capacity, reportedly to check on the health of Bouteflika, who was at the time being treated for stomach problems at a French military hospital.
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In the War of Independence, the Algerian army became out of combat force. A political wing served as the sole political party governing Algeria for three decades.
While Bouteflika, as president, visited France and addressed the country’s parliament, the Algerian army chief had never received an official invitation from Paris prior to Chanegriha.