Macron admits French army tortured victims in Algeria

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President Emmanuel Macron has admitted the French military carried out torture as he accepted the state’s responsibility for the death of a dissident mathematician in Algeria in 1957.

Mr Macron visited the 87-year-old widow of Maurice Audin, a French anti-colonial activist who disappeared after his arrest in Algeria.

He asked for her pardon, announced the opening of French archives on the war and expressed hope a new era would dawn for often bitter French-Algerian relations.

Mr Audin, a French communist mathematician, was arrested in 1957 by the French military during the battle of Algiers.

His body has never been recovered but historians widely believe he was tortured — which Mr Macron acknowledged, a major break with France’s official version of the war.

“The only thing I am doing is to acknowledge the truth,” Mr Macron told Josette Audin.

Mr Audin has become the symbol of France’s abuses during the brutal war in its former colony that ended with Algeria’s independence in 1962.

A square in Algiers bears his name and his widow’s battle to uncover the truth made his case a cause celebre.

The scars of the seven-year war have yet to heal in Algeria or in France. Unlike other French colonies, Algeria, which France invaded in 1830, was part of the French nation, a colonial jewel.

Both the occupation and the brutality during the war have embittered ties between Algiers and Paris. French authorities did not refer to war at the time, calling the violence, disappearances and bloodshed an “operation of public order”.

A declaration Mr Macron gave to Mrs Audin during his visit spelled out the method used by French soldiers to legally eliminate people like Mr Audin, who clandestinely worked for the liberation of Algeria from the French.

Security forces were allowed to arrest, detain and interrogate all “suspects” through special powers accorded by parliament to the French Army that gave them carte blanche to re-establish order.

“This system was the unfortunate ground for acts, sometimes terrible, including torture that the Audin affair has highlighted,” the declaration says, adding that it made torture a “weapon considered legitimate”.

Torture was not punished “because it was conceived as an arm against the FLN” — the National Liberation Front fighting for Algeria’s independence — “but also against anyone seen as its allies, militants and partisans of independence”.

Historians have studied the disappearance of Mr Audin and widely concluded he was tortured after his arrest at his home on the evening of June 11 1957.

Mr Macron announced that France will open its archives, telling Mr Audin’s widow that “everyone should know the truth”.

Mr Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, had previously acknowledged that Mr Audin did not escape — the official version of events until then — but died in jail.

An official in the presidential Elysee Palace stressed that the archives to be made public are limited to the question of disappearances and it may take up to a year to open them.

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