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Day 96: Algiers to Oran

Michael Palin - SaharaThe railway runs through a poor area consisting of cheap new housing blocks, separated from the line by a corridor of concrete walls and steel fences which rise on either side of the train. This grim barricade continues into open countryside, where fields, apple orchards and vineyards stretch away towards the grey-green foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The fields around Blida were once renowned for their roses; now the town is part of the aforementioned 'Triangle of Death', which is marked by Blida in the west, Bouira in the east and Algiers in the north. It was in this deceptively benign landscape that the GIA used to stop trains by putting an accomplice on board to pull the communication cord. As the train came to a halt they would board and either kill their victims there and then or take them away and murder them. There are no communication cords on the trains any more. Even the nice friendly PR team from the railway cannot disguise the problems here. The woman with the lustrous hair lost her voice for three years after seeing some soldiers, who were guarding one of her stations, murdered. Like many other victims of the GIA their throats had been cut.

Once beyond Blida, the continuous protective wall stops, but heavy security remains in place, with block-houses and pillboxes at strategic points like bridges or tunnel entrances.

The worst of the attacks peaked around 1995 and recently the government has experimented with an amnesty, which seems to have reduced the levels of violence.

The damage nowadays is more likely to be inflicted by bored teenagers throwing stones, which happens all the time and explains not only the number of Plexiglas window panes but also the scattering of dents on the bodywork which caught my eye as I was boarding.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 96
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Algiers
  • Book page no: 248

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