The coffins draped with the national flag were placed in freshly dug graves in the place of the martyr of the largest cemetery in Algeria, alongside national heroes such as the leader of the revolt Emir Abdelkader.
An elite unit of the Republican Guard presented weapons while a funeral march was taking place in the background, a correspondent reported.
“This is a big day for me – a real day of independence,” said Yamina, the 84-year-old granddaughter of one of the combatants, Mokhtar ben Kouider El Titraoui.
Algerian President urges Paris to apologize for colonial past
“These remains are the first Algerians who sacrificed their lives for this country. Without them, we would not be here today, ”she added.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who participated in the ceremony alongside military and civilian figures, called on France to apologize for its colonial past.
“We have already had half-excuses. The next step is necessary… we are waiting for it, ”he told the France 24 news channel on Saturday.
An apology was necessary to “deal with the problem of memory which jeopardizes many things in the relations between the two countries”, which had often been freezing, explained Tebboune.
It “would calm tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations”, especially for the more than six million Algerians living in France, he added.
On Sunday, Tebboune presented the flags that draped the coffins to young cadets in military academies, which is akin to “passing the baton” to keep the memory of the fighters killed among the young generations, said an official.
The skulls, formerly considered as war trophies by French colonial officers, were transported by plane to Algiers international airport on Friday, then transferred to the Palace of Culture where they were exhibited.
Despite the stifling heat, a long queue formed in front of the palace and men and women, waiting to pay tribute, cried, according to images broadcast by several television channels.
“I came as a combatant, as an invalid in the liberation war, as a citizen who loves his country,” said Ali Zemlat.
The 85-year-old man fought in the brutal war of 1954-1962 which ended 132 years of French colonial rule in Algeria.
The skulls have been stored since the 19th century in the vaults of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, specializing in anthropology.
Among the remains were those of the leader of the revolt Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and beheaded, and those of his comrades who suffered the same fate.
Algeria had officially requested their return in 2018, as well as the delivery of the colonial archives.
The restitution of the skulls was seen as the sign of a thaw in relations between Algeria and the former colonial power, marked since independence by recurrent tensions.
The French presidency, in a statement, said that the return of the remains was a gesture of “friendship” and was part of the efforts to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people”.
The repatriation comes amid a comprehensive re-examination of the legacy of colonialism, triggered by the May murder of an unarmed African-American George Floyd by a white police officer in the United States.
His assassination has sparked protests around the world and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to repair “centuries of violence and discrimination”.
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president born after the 1954-1962 war of independence in which 1.5 million Algerians died, made his first official visit to Algiers in December 2017.
At the time, he told the Tout sur l’Algérie news site that he was “ready” to see his country surrender.
During his campaign for the presidential election, Macron had caused a storm by describing the French colonization of Algeria as “a crime against humanity”.
Posted in Dawn, July 6, 2020