ALGIERS Wielding axes, knives, hoes and shovels, Muslim militants under cover of night hacked and slashed to death more than 400 villagers in the worst massacre of a nearly six-year-old insurgency. Survivoii who fled in terror into the darkness yesterday de scribed how the attackers threw babies against walls to kill them, and rescue workers ptdled dozens of bodies out of homes where the militants methodically murdered their victims. 'We're almost done here," one gang leader was heard saying on a walkie-talkie during the slayings that decimated the hillside villages. The attack came on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that has seen an upsurge of violence every year since the insurgents launched their struggle to bring down the military-backed Govemmeht. Over 500 people have been massacred in the past 11 days. It took place just as the inhabitants were breaking their daily Ramadan fast at sunset in four hamlets around the town of Relizane, 300 km west of Algiers. Hospital sources, rescue teams and cemetery workers confirmed 176 dead in Khourba, 113 in Sahnoun, 73 in El Abadel and 50 in Ouled Taieb. The aftermath of the night showed how the gangs grouped their victims together before killing them. "I pulled out 50 mutilated bodies from one house and 30 from another," said Hadj Mohammed, a villager in Khourba, home to about 200 families.

Rescue workers stitched slashed victims back together or quickly buried the victims in accordance with Muslim law. 'I can't get rid of the smell of blood," said a nurse, her blouse splattered with blood, before brealdng out in tears. Khourba villager Amar Meziani said the militants abducted about a dozen young girls. Many surviving families, he said, planned to move to the nearby port of OraiL "Leaving is better than dying," said Mr Meziani. "I'm too old to carry a weapon. I'll return when it's calm.". There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell on the Armed Islan-dc Group, the insurgency's most violent movement that has claimed responsibUity for past bombings and massacres. AP

Survivors of terrorist attacks in Algeria gave French newspapers horrifying accounts of the frenzied and merciless bloodshed.

PARIS "I tried to flee. But the terrorist at the door caught me and told some of the others 'cut her throat."' The 16-year-old girl, reliving the nightmare of Algeria's worst reported night of carnage, lay in hospital in the west Algerian town of Oued Rhiou, her neck hacked by an axe but miraculously alive. "They wanted to cut my throat with a knife like my uncle. It was the middle of the night when they burst in on us," said the girl, her name given only as Taos, in testimony published on Sunday in Libede newspaper, which said 412 people died in the slaughter she survived. L'Authentique newspaper said she had been raped and left for dead after seeing her mother and brothers killed. Survivors of the killings in the Relizane region are now demanding weapons from the authorities to protect themselves, La Tribune newspaper said.

Witnesses told the newspaper how armed men smashed in doors and climbed wags to slaughter the inhabitants. One wounded survivor, whose daughter was raped, then had her throat slit, cried out: "Why? Islam is not like this." Witnesses'accounts indicated that the killing in the hamlets lasted at least seven hours, from early Tuesday evening to around 1 am on Wednesday. I Taos said: "One of them asked my father where the money was. When he replied there was none, they beat him up before stabbing him also before all the members of our family." Another survivor named as Ali B, in his 50s, stammered as he told what happened at his home. 'They cut the throats of all my family. Only my baby escaped the massacre, miraculously, I don't know how. There were many of them, I couldn't count them, armed with knives, axes. They asked me for money, then provoked my wife and when I intervened they hit me with an axe. "Hours afterwards, when I woke, I found all my family bathing in a sea of blood." At Oued Rhiou hospital, a woman who survived by hiding in an alcove cried out: "They [the attackers] are not human ... How can you explain the head of a baby of six months being crushed and the body being trampled on?" Algerian authorities have acknowledged the ldllings and blamed Muslim rebels who have been fighting for nearly six years to try to topple the Government. The German Foreign Minnister, Klaus Kinkel, called for a European Union "troika" past, present and future holders of the EU presidency to visit Algeria to offer help. Algeria, however, has shown itself extremely sensitive to what it often terms "foreign interference," and previous efforts to involve the European Union or the United Nations have failed. Iran, which Algeria has accused of supporting Muslim rebels fighting to overthrow the Government, also suggested a need for foreign involvement. "The Islamic world should not remain indifferent towards such shocking acts, especially during the holy month of Ramadan," the Tehran Times quoted a foreign ministry spokesman, Mohmoud Mohammadi, as saying. Pope John Paul called for the perpetrators to end their "senseless fratricidal warfare" and seek peaceful solutions. Diplomats and commentators say massacres of civilians appear aimed at spreading fear, or at demonstrating that the state cannot control large parts of the North African country, and to ensure censorship cannot be effective because of the sheer number of dead. Other killings have been attributed to rivalry between the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), with families of group members being targeted for revenge. La Tribune quoted two young survivors as saying they now wanted weapons after the attacks and the kidnapping of nearly 20 youngsters, mainly girls. It said the bodies of three of the kidnapped girls had been found. They had been raped and their throats slit. ' Newspapers say at least 1600 young girls have been kidnapped, raped repeatedly by their captors, and then killed having their throats slit. El Watan newspaper, in criticism of the authorities' silence on killings, asked:

"How many dead in six years?" "Massacres of citizens have become an almost daily event, particularly in the month of Ramadan. But Algerians still do, not know the exact number of victims in six years of terrorism.' Independent and foreign estimates put the total number of dead at about 65,000 since violence erupted in early 1992 after the authorities cancelled a general election dominated by radical Islamists. REUTERS

13th Jan 98 1000 people have now been killed during this episode. The Algerian government has agreed to an EU delegation to find out conditions on the ground.

14th Jan 98 Another 103-400 killed at Brodj-Khriss 80km south of Algiers.

16th Jan 98 Death Toll Reaches 1400 during Ramadan

ALGIERS The Algerian Interior Ministry yesterday denied "with great firmness" that the death toll in a nighttime massacre south of Algiers on Monday was more than 400, and stuck with the official figure of 103 dead and 70 wounded. The ministry, in a statement read on state-run radio, was reacting to Algerian newspaper reports that more than 400 civilians were killed in Sidi Hamed village, some 30km south of Algiers. It asked newspapers which carried tolls of 400 what point "this macabre a,ecounting" served. "One death is one death too many," the ministry said. The official toll, given by the security services just hours after the massacre, was the highest officially acknowledged toll for one single attack in Algeria's six-year-old confflct. Liberte newspaper, quoting survivors, said 428 civilians had died and 140 had been wounded. El Watan newspaper, quoting what it called "sources which are in agreement," report6d that 400 people had been slaughtered, most them women and children. "Yesterday, survivors [email protected] still busy looking for bodies buried under the ruins of buurned houses," Liberte said, adding that one group had pulled a woman alive from under one house. "She is burned but still alive," one of the group,'gaid.' Villagers said around 30 girls had disappeared after the attack, a pattern familiar from past massacres. The girls, sometimes as young as 12, are taken for sex and later killed, usually by having their throats cut. The killings took the death toll in attacks blamed on Musllim rebels to between 1100 and 1400 since the holy month of Ramadan began on December 30. Most of the massacres were carried out in Relizane province, 240km west of Algiers. Muslim rebels increase their attacks during Ramadan, saying it is propitious for their struggle, in which more than 65,000 people have died.

The Ramadan carnage has pushed Algeria into the international spotlight and led to a fluny of diplomatic contacts to seek ways to end the slaughter. A Canadian envoy, Claude Laverdure, arrived in Algiers on Tuesday with a message from Prime Minister Jean Chretien to Algerian President Liarnine Zeroual. The Canadian GoverMnent, horrified by the killings, said last week that it would send, an envoy to Algiers to express its concern. An Arab League envoy, Mouhab Makbal, met President Zeroual yesterday. He was carrying a message of solidarity from Secretary-General Esmat Abdel Maguid, who has backed Government in the face of international demands for an inquiry into the slaughter. A three-envoy European Union mission is due in Algiers in the next few days to discuss the violence. EU sources said the team was likely to be at the level of foreign ministry political directors or state secretaries. The team of senior officials, from Britain, Austria and Luxembourg could leave by the end of this week, pending approval from the Algerian Government, an EU source said yesterday. Violence broke out in Algeria after the authorities in January 1992 cancelled a general election in which the now-banned Islamic Salvation front had taken a huge lead. La Tribune newspaper said yesterday that around 50 gunmen had taken part in the attack on Sidi Hamed. A survivor told Liberte that the attackers came in "dozens," armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, swords and axes. One man, who thought at first the attackers were a militia group, said. 'When I saw a terrorist fire a bullet into the head of a child, I underswod everything and ran.