Tag Archives: Algeria

Stuff the British media seldom – and UK TV News almost never – report on

The British tend to be very sniffy about US TV’s  international coverage, because the Americans supposedly report little and know less of the world outside.

But British TV is just as bad.

Major events in China, the Far East and India, in Africa and South America go totally unreported and unknown on UK TV, where the same parochial 5 or 6 stories get repeated in each half hour or quarter hour of our news bulletins.

My friend Lynn, with her husband Frank, has been travelling in West Africa.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted her blogs from the Ivory Coast and, delayed for safety reasons, from pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

Whoever hears anything in the UK about the Ivory Coast or the ongoing pirate problem in the Gulf of Guinea?

This missive from Lynn is from Morocco… or maybe it is from Western Sahara. It depends on your political viewpoint.


The SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) flag

We have maintained email silence whilst travelling through Western Sahara and Morocco. All the maps were taken down and information removed as they showed Western Sahara and we were told not to carry anything with a mention of it and especially not a photo of the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Front) flag and to only refer to the country as Morocco.

I was told that, on 29th March this year, following a UN report, the Polisario (recognised by the UN as the official body for the Sahrawi) withdrew their road blocks on the Mauritanian border and agreed a ceasefire and that Morocco had offered semi-autonomy to the region but not sovereignty.  

Disputed ‘Western Sahara’ with Mauritania and Algeria to the east; Morocco to the north and the islands of Tenerife/Gran Canaria to the west

Morocco has the support of France and the USA, whereas Algeria supports the Polisario/Sahrawi arabs.

I was also told that the Moroccans have built a 1,700 mile wall north to south and there are varying accounts of 5-10 million landmines.

Last October, the International Court of Justice’s verdict was to hold a referendum.

Referenda have been mooted several times but never held, with Mauritania withdrawing decades ago and abandoning their claim. Moroccans are being resettled in the south to increase numbers and the building projects are prolific but eerie as there are so few people or evidence of habitation in all the new parks, playgrounds, office blocks, government buildings, airport and railway stations. Even the enormous barracks and gendarmerie seemed deserted. It all has the feel of a vacant film set.

We drove to the largest city, Laayoune, literally a city in the desert, 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around it for 1,000 miles. Perhaps everyone was told to stay indoors until we left, much as we were told to behave until we had avoided the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

TV crew interview ’someone’ in Laayoune, Western Sahara

In fact, it appears that we were the news in Laayoune.

To add to our armed police escort, there were armed traffic police to close roads on the route as we travelled in convoy, the army to guard our lunch stop at a nomadic Sahrawi Arab camp, armed tourist police, plain clothes police and, to add to the circus, a TV crew was with us all day.

A TV interviewer appeared at the Sahrawi camp but I didn’t get an answer on who he or his interviewee were. 

There were also photographers (one of whom was plain clothes police determined to get a head shot of everyone and unamused by Frank’s gurning and back-turning).

All were seriously twitchy about cameras so no usable photos.

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The man who kept accused war criminal Ratko Mladic’s hat in his living room

I posted this blog a few months ago but, with the arrest yesterday of former Serbian general Ratko Mladic, I thought part of it might be of interest again. It is about one of the most interesting people I never met.

* * *

Bill Foxton is dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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A canny gaun man, the IRA, the SAS, the Oman war and the plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969

I agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she said Society doesn’t exist. It is made up of individuals. ‘Society’ is something made up by sociologists.

Just like History does not exist. It is made up of and by sometimes extraordinary individuals.

At the weekend, amid all the TV and radio reports from Libya and the non-reports about what is happening in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, there was a tiny news item about trouble in Oman. This reminded me about one of the most interesting people I never met. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

He’s dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic – who is still on the run for war crimes as I write this. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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The IRA sympathiser and the SAS man: a true story

Once upon a time an Italian historian told me this true story about his friend ‘Alan’ who was in the British SAS. (I have changed the name, although the SAS man is now dead)…

Alan had gone to prominent public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62. After that, he returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and he joined a privately-run special services group. They were used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda, in the Qatar affair where the Emir’s brother was shot and various other exotic things. Finally, in 1969, he was employed as one of a group who were to go and kill Colonel Gadaffi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Alan was persuaded by the authorities to join the British Army’s SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

On one occasion, they were about to raid some houses in Catholic West Belfast but wanted to find out in advance details of what they would face. So they stole a car in Protestant East Belfast, drove into West Belfast and, pretending they were members of a Protestant gang, kidnapped a man who could tell them, put him in the boot of their car and drove back to East Belfast. Their plan was to threaten to kill him, then question him and return him to West Belfast. But, when they tried to get him out of the boot of their stolen car, they found the lock was jammed shut. They had stolen the car but they had never tested the lock on the boot.

So they drove round to the British Army Barracks’ vehicle workshop. The Army mechanics, in full uniform, just touched the lock with a screwdriver and the boot suddenly sprang open without warning. The Catholic nationalist lay there, looking up at his kidnappers standing with uniformed British Army mechanics. They slammed the boot shut again and tried to figure out what to do.

The nationalist now knew he had been kidnapped not by a Protestant gang but by the British Army. Alan went and talked with his commander.

“I don’t care what you do with him,” the commander said. “It’s your problem. Solve it.”

So they took the nationalist out of the car boot, injected him with a knock-out drug and drove him across the border to Shannon Airport in the Irish Republic. A British ‘asset’ at the airport put the man – still deeply asleep – in a seat on a scheduled flight to New York. The man woke up around the time he was landing in United States with no passport, visa or documents. On landing, he was immediately arrested for trying to enter the country illegally.

He had no explanation of how he could have flown from Shannon to New York on a scheduled flight and his story about being kidnapped by the British Army in Belfast did not fit the known facts. He spent ten days in a cell in New York, while they tried to figure out what was going on. By the time he was sent back to Belfast, the SAS had made their raids and the whole affair was over. To this day, he must be a very puzzled man.

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