ALGIERS Dec 19 President Francois Hollande
refused on Wednesday to apologise for France's colonial past in
Algeria, saying instead that Paris wanted to move forward on an
equal footing and boost trade with the oil-rich North African
The trauma of the 1954-1962 Algerian war, in which hundreds
of thousands were killed before France's departure, left deep
scars in both countries which still hold back a partnership
France believes could help revive the Mediterranean basin.
Speaking on his first state visit since his election in May,
Hollande said the two had agreed a friendship declaration and a
five-year strategic pact covering economic, cultural,
agricultural and defence ties.
"I want to define with Algeria a strategic partnership on an
equal-to-equal basis," he told a news conference after meeting
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
"I am not here to repent or apologise, I am here to tell the
While France wants to heal the wounds left by the war,
58-year-old Hollande, who spent eight months working at the
French embassy in Algeria in 1978, has limited room for
A formal apology for its colonial past is a sensitive issue.
Many French citizens who lived there before independence and who
fought in the French army against Algerian insurgents oppose the
idea, as do former loyalist Muslim volunteers known as "harkis".
With its own economy on the brink of recession, France hopes
the diplomatic drive will strengthen trade ties. It is also
intent on improving security cooperation with Algiers as it
pushes for intervention against Islamists who have seized
control of northern Mali.
Algeria has 12 billion barrels of oil reserves and is the
world's largest French-speaking nation in terms of its surface
area. Yet annual trade with France is just 10 billion euros and
as Algiers diversifies its economy, China, Spain and Italy have
eroded France's market share.
Hollande, who brought with him senior executives from some
of France's top firms said Renault had agreed to build
a factory to produce some 75,000 cars a year.
"The past should not prevent us from preparing the future,"
(Reporting By Julien Ponthus and John Irish in Paris; editing
by Mark John)