On March 18, 1962, France and the leaders of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) sign a peace agreement to end the seven-year Algerian War, signaling the end of 130 years of colonial French rule in Algeria.
In late October 1954, a faction of young Algerian Muslims established the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) as a guerrilla organization dedicated to winning independence from France. They staged several bloody uprisings during the next year, and by 1956 the FLN was threatening to overrun the colonial cities, home to Algeria’s sizable European settler population. In France, a new administration, led by Guy Mollet, promised to quell the Muslim rebellion and sent 500,000 French troops to Algeria to crush the FLN.
To isolate the rebels and their area of operations, France granted Tunisia and Morocco independence, and their borders with Algeria were militarized with barbed wire and electric fencing. When FLN leaders attempted to travel to Tunisia in October 1956 to discuss the Algerian War, French forces diverted their plane and jailed the men. In response, the FLN launched a new campaign of terrorism in the colonial capital of Algiers. General Jacques Massu, head of France’s crack parachute unit, was given extraordinary powers to act in the city, and through torture and assassination the FLN presence in Algiers was destroyed. By the end of 1957, the rebels had been pushed back into rural areas, and it seemed the tide had turned in the Algerian War.
However, in May 1958, a new crisis began when European Algerians launched massive demonstrations calling for the integration of Algeria with France and for the return of Charles de Gaulle to power. In France, the Algerian War had seriously polarized public opinion, and many feared the country was on the brink of army revolt or civil war. On June 1, de Gaulle, who had served as leader of France after World War II, was appointed prime minister by the National Assembly and authorized to write a new national constitution.
Days after returning to power, de Gaulle visited Algiers, and though he was warmly welcomed by the European Algerians he did not share their enthusiasm for Algerian integration. Instead, he granted Muslims the full rights of French citizenship and in 1959 declared publicly that Algerians had the right to determine their own future. During the next two years, the worst violence in Algeria was perpetrated by European Algerians rather than the FLN, but scattered revolts and terrorism did not prevent the opening of peace negotiations between France and the FLN-led provisional government of the Algerian Republic in 1961.
On March 16, 1962, a peace agreement was signed at Evian-les-Bains, France, promising independence for Algeria pending a national referendum on the issue. French aid would continue, and Europeans could return to their native countries, remain as foreigners in Algeria, or take Algerian citizenship. On July 1, 1962, Algerians overwhelmingly approved the agreement, and most of the one million Europeans in Algeria poured out of the country. More than 100,000 Muslim and 10,000 French soldiers were killed in the seven-year Algerian War, along with thousands of Muslim civilians and hundreds of European colonists.