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France's top honour for Algerian 'harki' fighters

Harki veterans, former northern African soldiers of the French army during the Algerian national Liberation war (1957-62), and relatives take part in a march on May 10, 2014 in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises, where General Charles De Gaulle was buried. The Nati AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron announced national honours on Friday for 'harki' Algerian fighters who fought alongside French troops in Algeria's war of independence.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced France's top honours on Friday for 'Harkis' -- Algerians who fought alongside French troops in Algeria's war of independence.

The Legion d'Honneur, the country's top honour, is to be granted to six former fighters and the co-founder of an association which has fought for Harki rights.

Another 19 people are to be granted an Order of Merit, ahead of France's National Harki Day on September 25.

The Harkis - a history of exile

During the Algerian war of independence, 150,000 Algerians were recruited by the French army as auxillary troops.

After a peace accord granted Algerian independence on March 18, 1962, only around 60,000 harkis were allowed to emigrate to France. There, they suffered rampant discrimination and, in many cases, poverty.

They were set up in camps and isolated urban housing with no real perspectives to integrate French society, neither for them nor their children.

The rest of the Harkis -- between 55,000 and 75,000, according to historians -- remained in Algeria, where many were massacred after being accused of being traitors.

Harki veterans, former northern African soldiers of the French army during the Algerian national Liberation war (1957-62), sit next to pictures of refugee camps as they attend a meeting of the Harkis' Liaison Committee on May 10, 2014 in Colombey-les-deux- AFP

Harki recognition - still taboo in France?

Boaza Gasmi, president of the National Harki Liaison Committee (CNLH) toldĀ  France Info media that he was "obviously happy with the national honours".

However, he expressed his desire for real recognition in French life and society.

"The youngest Harki today is 80 years old," he said, pointing out that "three or four generations of Harkis should have been integrated into French social life. They could have made something of their lives... "

Many members of the Harki community supported Macron's election campaign in 2017. In September this year, dissatisfied with government action for the recognition of Harkis, they threatened to bring France before international courts for crimes against humanity.

Macron's decision to award honours came after.

Harkis parade in Alger in 1957 to commemorate the end of the Second World War AFP/Jacques GREVIN / INTERCONTINENTALE

French implication in the Algerian war

The fate of the Harkis in France and their descendants, who number hundreds of thousands, remains a highly sensitive issue in France, acting as a reminder of its colonial history.

Previous presidents of the left and right had taken cautious steps to acknowledge and face up to French wrongdoing in Algeria and after the war.

Rightwing leader Nicolas Sarkozy admitted in 2012 that France failed in its duty towards the Algerians who fought for France, saying the country "should have protected the harkis from history, it did not do so."

Macron has gone further than his predecessors in addressing France's past in Algeria.

Last year he sparked controversy on the campaign trail by declaring that France's colonisation of Algeria was a "crime against humanity", leading to protests from some harki groups.

And last week he acknowledged that the French military instituted a "system" that facilitated torture as it sought to cling on to its 130-year rule in the country.

He made the announcement while admitting that the French state was responsible for the torture and death of mathematician Maurice Audin, a French Communist pro-independence activist who disappeared in Algiers in 1957.

The 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence sparked fears of a coup in France, with mutinous generals reluctant to relinquish the colony.

The conflict left at least 400,000 people dead.

(With AFP)