The Generals' Putsch

The Generals' Putsch

Important elements of the French army and the ultras joined in another insurrection in April 1961. The leaders of this "generals' putsch" intended to seize control of Algeria as well as topple the de Gaulle regime. Units of the Foreign Legion offered prominent support, and the well-armed Secret Army Organization (Organisation de l'Armée Secrète--OAS) coordinated the participation of colon vigilantes. Although a brief fear of invasion swept Paris, the revolt collapsed in four days largely because of cooperation from the air force and army.

The "generals' putsch" marked the turning point in the official attitude toward the Algerian war. De Gaulle was now prepared to abandon the colons, the group that no previous French government could have written off. The army had been discredited by the putsch and kept a low profile politically throughout the rest of France's involvement with Algeria. Talks with the FLN reopened at Evian in May 1961; after several false starts, the French government decreed that a cease-fire would take effect on March 19, 1962. In their final form, the Evian Accords allowed the colons equal legal protection with Algerians over a threeyear period. These rights included respect for property, participation in public affairs, and a full range of civil and cultural rights. At the end of that period, however, Europeans would be obliged to become Algerian citizens or be classified as aliens with the attendant loss of rights. The French electorate approved the Evian Accords by an overwhelming 91 percent vote in a referendum held in June 1962.

During the three months between the cease-fire and the French referendum on Algeria, the OAS unleashed a new terrorist campaign. The OAS sought to provoke a major breach in the ceasefire by the FLN but the terrorism now was aimed also against the French army and police enforcing the accords as well as against Muslims. It was the most wanton carnage that Algeria had witnessed in eight years of savage warfare. OAS operatives set off an average of 120 bombs per day in March, with targets including hospitals and schools. Ultimately, the terrorism failed in its objectives, and the OAS and the FLN concluded a truce on June 17, 1962. In the same month, more than 350,000 colons left Algeria. Within a year, 1.4 million refugees, including almost the entire Jewish community and some pro-French Muslims, had joined the exodus to France. Fewer than 30,000 Europeans chose to remain.

On July 1, 1962, some 6 million of a total Algerian electorate of 6.5 million cast their ballots in the referendum on independence. The vote was nearly unanimous. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3. The Provisional Executive, however, proclaimed July 5, the 132d anniversary of the French entry into Algeria, as the day of national independence.

The FLN estimated in 1962 that nearly eight years of revolution had cost 300,000 dead from war-related causes. Algerian sources later put the figure at approximately 1.5 million dead, while French officials estimated it at 350,000. French military authorities listed their losses at nearly 18,000 dead (6,000 from noncombat-related causes) and 65,000 wounded. European civilian casualties exceeded 10,000 (including 3,000 dead) in 42,000 recorded terrorist incidents. According to French figures, security forces killed 141,000 rebel combatants, and more than 12,000 Algerians died in internal FLN purges during the war. An additional 5,000 died in the "café wars" in France between the FLN and rival Algerian groups. French sources also estimated that 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed, or abducted and presumed killed, by the FLN.

Historian Alistair Horne considers that the actual figure of war dead is far higher than the original FLN and official French estimates, even if it does not reach the 1 million adopted by the Algerian government. Uncounted thousands of Muslim civilians lost their lives in French army ratissages, bombing raids, and vigilante reprisals. The war uprooted more than 2 million Algerians, who were forced to relocate in French concentration camps or to flee to Morocco, Tunisia, and into the Algerian hinterland, where many thousands died of starvation, disease, and exposure. Additional pro-French Muslims were killed when the FLN settled accounts after independence.


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