Zaoui should return home, says NZ First

By Derek Cheng, NZPA

New Zealand First is calling for Ahmed Zaoui to return to his homeland after the Algerian Government granted an amnesty to members of his former political party.

Algerian authorities released Ali Belhadj, the deputy leader of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), this week as part of a mass pardon.

Mr Belhadj, held since July last year for making public statements about the war in Iraq, was one of 2200 Islamic militants being pardoned or having their sentences reduced as part of the Algerian Government's effort to end more than a decade of civil war.

The amnesty is part of Algeria's Charter for Peace and Reconciliation, which also exonerates the military from any wrongdoing, despite accusations it used dirty tactics during a war that resulted in 150,000 deaths in the 1990s.

Mr Zaoui's lawyer Deborah Manning said last night the amnesty was a farce.

"There has been an amnesty given, but it's only to people who will go back to Algeria and confess to their crimes," Ms Manning said.

"Amnesty International and other groups in the United Nations have condemned the amnesty because it's giving impunity to the security services and stopping people from talking about the troubles in Algeria."

But New Zealand First deputy leader Peter Brown said the release of Mr Belhadj was a clear signal that Mr Zaoui was not at risk in his homeland and he should get on the next plane to Algeria.

"The amnesty also means that any grounds for Zaoui to claim refugee status are very shaky and the more than $2 million in costs he has inflicted on the New Zealand taxpayer were for nothing." Mr Brown said.

"Zaoui should now return to his homeland, which he said on his release from prison was his ultimate aim, and cease to be a burden to the New Zealand taxpayer."

Mr Zaoui fled Algeria and eventually landed in New Zealand seeking refugee status. Years of legal wrangling ensued as he fought a Security Intelligence Service certificate declaring him to be a security risk who should not remain in New Zealand.

He was imprisoned while authorities sorted out his status, but was freed last year by the Supreme Court.

The Government is currently waiting for the SIS Inspector-General report on his security classification before the Immigration Minister makes a final decision on Mr Zaoui's fate.

Prime Minister Helen Clark's spokeswoman said due process was being followed, the Government was awaiting the report and had no further comment to make.

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