French Foreign Minister pays surprise visit to Algeria and urges easing of tensions between Paris and Algiers


France’s top diplomat, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called on Wednesday for relief from tensions with Algeria, during a surprise visit to Algiers after repeated crises between the North African country and its former colonial power.

Addressing journalists after meeting with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Le Drian said that Algeria was an “essential partner for France.”

“I hope that our two countries return together on the path of a peaceful relationship and look to the future,” he said.

“We hope that the dialogue that we relaunch today can lead to the resumption of political exchanges between our governments, going beyond the wounds of the past, which we must face, and the misunderstandings, which we must overcome.”

He expressed the hope that the two will work together to bring stability to the neighbors of Algeria, Libya and Mali.

Relations between Algiers and Paris have been strained for much of the six decades since the former French colony gained its independence after a 130-year occupation.

President Emmanuel Macron has gone further than his predecessors in acknowledging French abuses during the colonial era.

But ties collapsed in October after Macron accused Algeria’s “political-military system” of rewriting history and fomenting “hatred of France.”

Speaking to descendants of independence fighters, reported by Le Monde, Macron also questioned whether Algeria had existed as a nation before the French invasion in the 19th century.

A month after Paris decided to slash visa quotas for citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, those comments sparked a fierce reaction in Algeria.

The country withdrew its ambassador and banned French military aircraft from its airspace, which it routinely uses to carry out operations against jihadist groups in West Africa and the Sahel region.

The comments also prompted Tebboune to boycott a major November summit in Paris on Algeria’s war-torn neighbor Libya, vowing that Algeria would “not take the first step” to repair ties.

Historical reconciliation

The dispute prompted a rare expression of regret from the French presidency, which said it “regretted” the misunderstandings caused by the comments.

An aide to Macron’s office said the French leader “has the utmost respect for the Algerian nation and its history and for the sovereignty of Algeria.”

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra welcomed that statement and eventually represented Algeria at the Libyan conference.

Le Drian’s visit comes as Algeria prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence in March.

Macron, France’s first leader born after the colonial era, has prioritized historical reconciliation and forging a modern relationship with the former colonies.

Earlier this year, he acknowledged that French officers tortured and murdered Algerian lawyer Ali Boumendjel in 1957.

Macron also condemned “inexcusable crimes” in October during a 1961 offensive against Algerian pro-independence protesters in Paris, during which French police led by a former Nazi collaborator killed dozens of protesters and dumped their bodies into the Seine River.

A report commissioned by the president from historian Benjamin Stora earlier this year urged a truth commission on the Algerian war, but Macron ruled out issuing an official apology.

And as he seeks re-election next year, he is wary of providing ammunition to far-right nationalist opponents Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.