updated 3/18/2006 9:44:04 PM ET 2006-03-19T02:44:04

Up to 200,000 Algerians have died in a 15-year Islamic insurgency, the head of the government human rights body said Saturday — the highest official toll ever given.

The fighting started in 1992 when the army canceled a second round of voting in Algeria’s first multiparty legislative elections, to thwart a likely victory by the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front.

Between 150,000 and 200,000 had died since the violence began, Farouk Ksentini said.

The number killed has never been clear, but Ksentini’s figure was the highest estimated toll given by anyone representing the state. The dead also included security forces, he said.

Ksentini is the head of the Algerian Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said some 700 to 800 Islamic insurgents continue to do battle in various parts of the country.

Permanent state of emergency?
A state of emergency has been in place since the insurgency and it will “remain in place for as long as there is terrorist activity,” the minister said.

The state “will not give up the anti-terrorist fight, Zerhouni said.

Under a reconciliation plan, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has freed 1,236 prisoners, including many convicted Islamic extremists.

More than 2,000 convicted or suspected Islamists are to be freed or get sentence reductions.

The plan was overwhelmingly approved in a September referendum in an effort to turn the page on an era of terror.

Ksentini, quoted by government daily El Moudjahid, did not exclude eventual freedom for one of the country’s most notorious terrorists, Amar Saifi.

Saifi is best known as Abderrazak El Para, a former special forces paratrooper held responsible for kidnapping 32 European tourists in 2003, many of them German.

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