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Monday, October 08, 2007

ALGIERS, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Algeria has announced the surrender of the founder of the country's largest rebel group in a bid to hit the morale of the al Qaeda-linked insurgency, but analysts fear it will do little to slow the pace of attacks.

During a visit to France last week, Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni disclosed that Hassan Hattab, founder of the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), had given himself up to try to benefit from an amnesty.

"He gave himself up on Sept. 22. We view him as a repentant person," he said, adding Hattab still faced potential investigations into some alleged past offences.

Analysts noted Hattab, 40, inactive as a fighter even before he was sacked as leader in 2003, has been in negotiations with the army over his surrender for years.

Officials have said Hattab has been in a "special location" known to the security services -- remarks interpreted by some analysts as acknowledgement that he has been in effect under some form of protective detention during the talks.

"I doubt that Hattab's surrender will have any impact on the GSPC. He was not 'in business' since 1999," security specialist and editor Mounir Boudjema told Reuters. "But on the political level, it shows that Bouteflika's peace offer is a success."......

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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Top selling daily El Khabar reported on Sunday that 25 rebels and six soldiers had been killed in the past few days in clashes around the country, Africa's second largest.

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