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Prof. Dietrich Kappeler on Great lesson in mediation by Swiss diplomat (Algeria negotiations 1961-1962)

Published on 29 June 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

This text is a follow-up to Aldo Matteucci’s blog Great lesson in mediation by Swiss diplomat Olivier Long (Algeria negotiations 1961-1962)

The Swiss mediation in Algeria negotiations was coordinated by Raymond Probst, then head of the Western division of the political section of the Swiss foreign ministry. He appointed Gianrico Bucher, then Chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, as contact person with the Algerian side, and Olivier Long as contact with the French side. The choice of Olivier Long was in part motivated by the fact that he was related to Michel Debré, then French Prime Minister.

The two intermediaries frequently met in Berne to compare notes and exchange messages from the side they were dealing with. The Algerian side at the time comprised the GPRA in Tunis as well as the four incarcerated leaders Ben Bella, Krim, Ait Ahmed and Boumaza, who had been kidnapped by the French while flying from Rabat to Tunis. They were held in a Paris prison, and I ignore which one of the two Swiss intermediaries was allowed to contact them.

As negotiations progressed, the four incarcerated Algerians were released into Swiss custody and kept incommunicado from the media.   Disguised as skiing tourists, they met their French counterparts in Les Rousses just across the border with Switzerland. When negotiations moved to Evian, the four Algerian leaders were hosted in Switzerland and flown daily to Evian by helicopter. The agreement they reached with the French side was then approved in Paris and Tunis before becoming effective.

Gianrico Bucher had been approved by the Nigerian government as ambassador of Switzerland. He chose to travel there by ship, with a stopover in Algiers, as he wished to visit the country he had been dealing with. This he did secretly, in order not to alert the French terrorists of the OAS. He contacted me and I collected him at the ship, drove him around a bit and had lunch with him at the Yacht Club of Algiers. My boss, Consul general Henri Voirier nearly had a fit when I presented Ambassador Bucher to him at his office. The French, then still ruling Algeria, did not notice anything, as the name of Bucher was always misspelt in the press.

What was possible in 1962 would now be impossible. The media would certainly be alerted by indiscretions and the reluctant French would quickly withdraw from any further discussions. The whole scenario shows how important discretion and secrecy can be in diplomatic negotiations if they are to succeed. This unfortunately is no longer appreciated today.

Written by Prof. Dietrich Kappeler,

Former Swiss diplomat, invovled in the Algerian negotiations as junior diplomat in the Swiss Consulate in Algeries; founder of the serveral diplomatic training institutions, including DiploFoundation; currently, the honorary chairman of DiploFoundation.


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