PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande has acknowledged the state's culpability in abandoning Algerians who fought alongside French colonial forces in Algeria's war for independence — and were then massacred as traitors after the French retreat in 1962.
Tens of thousands of the fighters, known as harkis, were killed after the French withdrawal, and those made it to France were placed in camps. Their descendants have long sought official recognition that the harkis were unjustly treated.
Speaking Sunday in the Invalides monument that houses Napoleon's tomb, Hollande said, "I recognize the responsibility of French governments in abandoning the harkis, the massacres of those remaining in Algeria and the inhuman conditions for those transferred to France."
"France betrayed its promise, turned its back on families," he said, making the first official recognition of the state's role in abandoning the harkis.
The harki contingent included some 200,000 forces who had fought against fellow Algerians in a war seen as one of the darkest chapters in France's modern history.
Only in 1999, under then-President Jacques Chirac, did France officially admit that the eight-year combat that ended 132 years of French rule in Algeria was a war. The true number of Algerians who died in the war and its aftermath is unknown, as many were never identified. The wounds of the country's colonial past remain deep on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea.
In 2002, Chirac inaugurated a memorial near the Eiffel Tower to those who died fighting on the side of France, including harkis. Chirac also began what is now an annual ceremony for the harkis every September.
Other prominent politicians at Sunday's ceremony included Hollande's potential rivals for next year's election, conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.