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21 Soldiers Reportedly Die in Algeria

Insurgency: Rebel attack occurs during a sweep for Islamic militants, official news agency says.

April 03, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ALGIERS — Islamic militants killed 21 soldiers who were carrying out a sweep for insurgents in northwestern Algeria, the nation's official news agency reported Tuesday.

The soldiers were ambushed Monday in Moulay Larbi in the Saida region, about 240 miles southwest of Algiers, the capital, the APS agency reported.

The government troops were combing the area for suspected guerrillas, APS said, quoting unnamed security sources.

APS said 20 soldiers and a pro-government militiaman were killed.

It was the highest number of government troops killed in a single attack this year.

APS blamed the ambush on a "terrorist group," the official term used for Islamic rebels locked in a brutal conflict with government security forces.

More than 120,000 people have died in the insurgency, which broke out in 1992 when the army canceled elections that a fundamentalist party was expected to win.

In an effort to reconcile the North African nation, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised amnesty to rebels who turned in their weapons. The army has been hunting those who have refused to disarm.

Thousands of soldiers have been killed in ambushes and gun battles with rebels in the last decade.

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