Emmanuel Macron apologises for 'failure of duty' to Harki fighters after Algerian War

French president promises a law guaranteeing reparations to surviving combatants and their families

Harkis on a military operation during the Algerian War in 1959. Getty Images
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President Emmanuel Macron has apologised for the treatment of Algerians who fought for French colonial forces during the Arab country's struggle for independence.

About 200,000 people - known as Harkis - are believed to have been recruited by France and pitted against their compatriots during the bloody Algerian War, which lasted from 1954 until 1962.

The conflict resulted in a humiliating withdrawal for the former colonial power and left Harki loyalists to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that it would look after them.

Many of those who were unable to flee the country were deemed as traitors and executed. At least 30,000 Harkis and their family members were killed in reprisals, though the figure has been claimed to be as high as 140,000.

Those who made it to France were placed in camps, and many were denied access to school and other rights. A few thousand Harkis are believed to still be alive today.

On Monday, Mr Macron promised a new law guaranteeing reparations for those who had served France in the North African conflict.

“I want to express our gratitude to the fighters,” Mr Macron said at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace attended by about 300 people, mostly surviving Harkis and their families.

“I'm asking for forgiveness. We will not forget,” he said, adding that France had “failed in its duty towards the Harkis, their wives, their children".

“We will continue to bandage the wounds as long as they haven’t healed through words of truth. That is why the government will present a bill aimed at inscribing recognition and reparations in the marble of our laws.”

French president Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a ceremony in memory of the Harkis, Algerians who helped the French Army in the Algerian War of Independence.

During the address, Mr Macron's words were interrupted by the cries of a tearful woman in the audience. “I hear you,” he told her, and called for a joint reconciliation effort.

Mr Macron did not give details about the reparations. In 2018, his government promised €40 million ($46.9m) for the Harkis and their children via pensions and other aid, as an “indemnity.”

Previous French presidents had already begun to admit to the betrayal of the Algerian Muslim fighters.

Mr Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande in 2016 accepted “the responsibilities of French governments in the abandonment of the Harkis".

The meeting came days before national Harki day, which has been observed since 2003 — especially in southern France where many of the surviving fighters settled after the war.

I'm asking for forgiveness. We will not forget
French President Emmanuel Macron

Their political sympathies often lie with the nationalist right, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is the front-runner among Macron's rivals in France's presidential election next spring.

Authorities have in the past allowed a number of legal procedures to go ahead for Harkis and their families to claim damages from France.

Ahead of the ceremony, Harki organisations had demanded an official recognition of their treatment to be enshrined in a law by the end of the year.

“We hope that you will be the one to end 60 years of a certain hypocrisy by which the abandoning of the Harkis is recognised in speeches, but not in the law,” they said, in an open letter to Mr Macron.

Updated: September 21, 2021, 6:23 AM