14 APRIL 1961, Page 5

A Time to Decide



PRESIDENT on GAt.J.E's press conference had an unhappy air of baked meats intended for a marriage coldly furnishing forth a funeral. Per- haps the coffin is empty and the marriage will really take place. But there was no disguising the altered circumstances in which the President was speaking. The press conference had been meant for the fifth day of the Evian negotiations, called off a fortnight ago. This press conference had instead been preceded by a particularly violent week setting everyone's nerves on edge. The bomb at the Bourse had been only one of a score of plastic explosions in the Paris area since the beginning of the year, though, apart from that which killed the Mayor of Evian, it was the only one with serious casualties. It was followed by Others including a bang just round the corner from the Elysde and almost on the doorstep of the Siarete Nationale on the morning of the press conference. The nation was still waiting to learn that the police were really on the trail of these Right-wing conspirators.

In cost to human life the activities of the Moslem terrorists in France had been much graver. They included the hideous raid on a suburban hospital by one group of Algerian nationalists seeking to finish off the wounded leader of a rival grOup and in the process shoot- ing at random into a ward during the time allotted to visitors. Since two local Moslem leaders of the rival groups were lying wounded in the hospital (fifty-eight Algerian patients in all) It is not even certain which the raiders were try- ing to kill, nor, therefore, whether they got the right one, nor indeed which of the two rival nationalist organisations was responsible. What the ordinary Frenchman is likely to remember is that a dozen French patients and their friends were wounded and that at all events when the original unsuccessful attempt at murder was made, a Frenchman was killed by mistake; that another Frenchman was killed by Algerian terrorists on his honeymoon in mistake for a policeman a few days earlier; that a French child of eight was wounded in her bed in her home at St. Quentin during another similar shooting match; that four Frenchmen and only one Algerian were wounded in Roubaix when an Algerian fired into a Moslem café of contrary views; and that a French policeman was mur- dered in a Paris suburb together with the taximan who tried to catch the murderer. Such happen- "Vs do not make for the 'serenity' which the President frequently advocates as a desirable adjunct to peace-making. While the references to violence were few in his press conference, the reflections of disappointment and irritations, with difficulty mastered, were many. Of the press con- ference originally intended by the President there were large traces, above all his contemptuous denunciation of colonialism as out-of-date and the declaration that he had long been convinced of the inevitability of a completely independent Algeria. Future greatness, he said, depended on a country's development of its own resources. During all this part of the speech, one could almost hear the hissing of right-minded French patriots like so many snakes under the stones of a desolate valley. But having completed the work of years in thus outraging the Right, the Presi- dent did not go on to say anything that would give much satisfaction to the rebel leaders, or, above all, calm their suspicions. The question, he said, was the future of Algeria, how to hold the referendum at which the Algerians would decide whether they wanted independence with a com- plete breach from France or independence in co-operation with France. They could have either, but the former would inevitably mean the immediate end of very substantial French eco- nomic assistance and the expulsion of Algerians from France. In discussing these two alternatives, the President distinctly referred to his wish to consult on the problem with other Algerian ten- dencies than the 'rebellion' and the poisibility of regrouping the Algerians who wish to remain French in enclaves on the coast that could be defended if the rest of the country decided to break with France. It was a reference to the intention of discussing with the now quite unrepresentative MNA as well as with the FLN (the rebel organisation) that occasioned, though it may not necessarily have caused, the decision of the latter not to come to Evian. The President after speaking of the rebels' illusions' referred to France's intention of continuing to construct her own Algerian Algeria if the rebel government does not negotiate.

These are all themes that infuriate the rebel leaders—and the last of them may itself well be based on a grave illusion. Will Moslems still co- operate in the present Algerisation' of the Algerian administration and local government without the prospect of a negotiation to ease the road from working under France to serving the new Algerian republic?

The President insisted rightly enough on the French army's present effective control of much the greater part of Algeria. But the Moslem demonstrations in Algiers last December showed that with the armed rebellion crushed mass move- ments of protest and obstruction such as Algeria has not yet seen, might follow. France cannot now possibly revert to the methods of General Massu. The President is presumably hoping to demonstrate to the rebel leaders that, though he can become their friend in negotiations, they have nothing to gain by a refusal to talk. All the con- cessions that France can make before the nego- tiations have been made. He may even be hoping to split the rebel government.

The rebels are in fact faced with a decision on a very real issue. They are very conscious of fighting not only for independence but for a revo- lution. Would independence in co-operation with France involve abandoning the revolution and submitting to a velvet-gloved neo-colonialism? Do they want independence on the bourgeois con- ditions that have so far accompanied it in Tunisia and Morocco, even if this could bring in the next few years a substantial increase of prosperity for the masses? Indeed, not only would this pros- pect disappear if they refuse the French offer, but the expulsion of 400,000 Algerian workers in France would itself mean starvation in hundreds of villages. The rebel leaders have so far thought that they can extract further concessions before negotiating. President de Gaulle has refused to move, while repeating with even more emphasis his original offer. Has an irresistible force met an immovable object? Are France and Algeria wasting their strengths in hopeless intransigence or is there an opening somewhere?