Born in Kabylie in 1933 to a French officer, young Rabah Kheliff immediately became a service child. In 1951, having turned 18, he enlisted to go and serve in Indochina. After three years of campaign and fighting, he was one of those who fought for Dien Bien Phu till the end. Wounded and captured, he was freed and sent back to Metropolitan France in 1954.
The Franco-Algerian conflict having broken out, he left again for Algeria, where he served as officer for six years. And, on this fateful day of 19 March 1962, a unilateral ceasefire was decreed by the French government.
Three months later, on 5 July 1962, Lieutenant Rabah Kheliff was in Oran, as commander of his chasseur company. It was the day of proclamation of Algerian independence. The written instructions of the then French government, approved by General Katz, commanding the Oran region, ordered French soldiers to remain in their billets, irrespective of the gravity of the unrest.
These irresponsible orders were transmitted by General Katz to all the officers commanding the 12,000 soldiers, gendarmes and CRS, stationed in the various neighbourhoods of the Oran town. The bloodbath started with the atrocious massacre of several thousand European civilians and abandoned Muslims, without distinction of sex or age, massacre committed by bloodthirsty Algerian fanatics who had gone wild, like the dreadful beast of the forest.
Opting to stand for honour, Lieutenant Rabah Kheliff, flouted these orders, and with his company of chasseurs defied the ALN authorities, whom he persuaded to free some of the civilians who had been earmarked for sure death.
His courage bore fruits as the ALN soldiers left the place, thereby enabling the Chasseurs to free the prisoners and accompanied them to safe ground. Having moved some distance away from his company, he was himself attacked and wounded by the rioters, but rescued by his men, to whom he forbade firing. After these ordeals, he organized patrols along the roads leading to the seaport and airport in order to ensure the safe evacuation of those he had to protect.
Following these tragic events, and for having saved hundreds of human lives, Lieutenant Rabah Kheliff was close arrested, and summonsed by General Katz who hurled these despicable words to him: “If you weren’t Arab, I would scatter you!”
Captain Rabah Kheliff was thus one of those few officers who dared flout the odious orders of General Katz who abetted the abominable killings of that day, while thousands of French soldiers were ordered to billet in their barracks, without coming out to rescue their compatriots who were slaughtered in town...
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After returning to France, upon retiring from the Army, Captain Rabah Kheliff founded Union Nationale des Anciens Combattants Français Musulmans (UNACFM), which he chaired till 2003. For years, he tirelessly worked for the protection of the rights of his French Muslim army buddies.
Captain Rabah Kheliff passed on to eternity on 3 November 2003, in Lyon, at the age of 70, after a protracted illness. After a ceremony at the mosque of Lyon, he was buried at the new Cusset cemetery.
Captain Rabah Kheliff was Commander of the Legion of Honour and of the National Order of Merit, holder of the T.O.E. war cross, Military Valour Cross, and Volunteer Servicemen Cross, as well as several other decorations. The image he left for all those who knew him is that of a kind, wise and patriotic courageous man.