Gunmen attacked a convoy of customs agents traveling through the desert in southern Algeria on Friday, killing 13 and wounding eight others, the official APS news agency reported.

One other person was reported to have disappeared in the attack in the Ghardaia region, 745 miles south of the capital of this North African nation, APS reported, citing local security sources.

The attackers opened fire with machine guns on vehicles transporting the customs agents to a seminar, then set the vehicles afire, according to a report on daily Liberte's Web site. The gunmen, whose numbers were not immediately known, then fled in two four-wheel drive vehicles.

The vast desert region of southern Algeria is known as a transit area for arms trafficking and attacks by Islamic insurgents who have waged a battle with authorities for nearly 15 years.

Violence, which has killed up to 200,000 people since 1992, has plummeted drastically in recent years. However, sporadic attacks continue.

Friday's bloodshed came as Algeria sets in motion its Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which provides amnesty to a many Islamic insurgents and frees others from prison.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has said that national reconciliation is the only way for Algeria to turn the page on an era that has left this oil- and gas-rich nation divided. The peace charter was passed in a September referendum.