World Bulletin / News Desk
Algeria's ex-military chief Khaled Nezzar very likely will be prosecuted on war crimes charges for his role in the bloody civil conflict of the 1990s, a Swiss legal body said on Tuesday.
In a judgment released earlier in the day, Switzerland's top criminal court rejected claims from Nezzar that he could not be tried outside his home country for offences allegedly committed when he was defence minister there from 1990-1993.
"This is an historic judgment which means he can be tried here for what he did," Philip Grant, director of the Geneva-based TRIAL, an organisation that seeks to assure that war crimes suspects are brought to trial, told Reuters.
"It may take some time for it to happen, but the way is now open."
The general, who had become defence minister in 1990, was among leaders of a coup that overthrew then-president Chadli Benjadid in 1991 after the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF) emerged as victor in parliamentary elections.
The vote was declared void and in the ensuing violence, dubbed the "dirty war" which lasted until 1999, some 200,000 people died, mainly civilians massacred by groups.
Nezzar, believed to still wield considerable influence in Algiers, was arrested in Geneva last October on a complaint filed by TRIAL after his familiar burly, mustachioed figure was spotted in the street, apparently on a visit to a bank.
Two Algerian citizens, who have been granted political asylum in Switzerland, backed the complaint, telling Swiss investigators that they had been tortured and abused by soldiers while he held the defence post, Grant said.
After two days of hearings, the 74-year-old general was released after promising that he would take part in any further proceedings. But Grant said lawyers had since represented him while Nezzar himself was believed to be in Algeria.
Nezzar's lawyers could not immediately be contacted.
Lost French suit
Former Algerian officers who fled to France say that many of the killings in Algeria were the work of the military. Nezzar lost a libel suit in Paris in 2002 against one of these officers who had alleged he had directed "false flag" attacks.
Nezzar left his official post in 1993, when the military's ruling High Council of State was dissolved, but diplomats say he kept a powerful role behind the scenes for several years thereafter.
Grant, whose organisation seeks to ensure that senior officials of regimes involved in oppression of their civilian populations do not go unpunished, said Swiss prosecutors would resume hearing witnesses against the general.
Then it would be up to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor, under a law passed in 2011, to formerly indict him. "If he declines to come back to Switzerland as he promised, there could be a question of an international arrest warrant," Grant added.
The Swiss lawyer said the decision by the court, based in Bellinzona in southeast Switzerland, "sets a ground-breaking precedent that could well be followed by many other countries in handling cases like this".
It did not identify the target of the civil action, which coincides with criminal inquiries into suspected fraud underway in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The continent’s population displacement reaches record levels in 2017, says UN report
Incident increases concerns about flow of contraband in French prisons
Ibrahimjon Asparov stands accused of supplying firearms, ammunition to Istanbul nightclub attacker
The 63-year-old leader, in power for nearly 12 years, also said she hoped to appoint equal numbers of male and female ministers from her conservative party if she wins a fourth term, though she could not speak for possible coalition partners.
Terror group continues to target Iraqi forces – especially Shia Hashd al-Shaabi – in northern Saladin province
Death toll may rise further after suicide bombers target car parking lot in northeast Borno state
"The worst has been avoided," Tsipras said after flying over the disaster zone northeast of Athens by helicopter, adding that about 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) of forest and scrubland had been ravaged.
London Southend Airport remains open despite images showing thick, black smoke
Human rights campaigners urge US government to be 'vigilant' on incitement after deadly rally violence
Ankara demands to know whether Adil Oksuz, wanted over 2016 defeated coup attempt, is in Germany
'We cannot sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism,' say AFL-CIO representatives
Aid donated by humanitarian group for children in drought-stricken nation
Regional security, Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam to top agenda of talks, Sudanese FM says
Grace Mugabe fails to appear after reportedly turning self into police to face assault charges