LOVELY COUNTRY, Algeria, if you're a hijacker. It's now the one place remaining in the world where you can be absolutely sure of sanctuary and tender treatment. Why, if you hie off to Algeria and demand, as a Japanese group recently did, to keep the ransom you've just exacted from somebody else and to be spared extradiction and to be allowed to leave later as you please and even to avoid being photographed, then Algeria will gladly accommodate you. It's hinted that if, in addition, you wish the prime minister to don a white jacket and serve you breakfast, that too can be arranged.

Just why Algeria decide to make itself into hijackers' haven is not clear. Some suspect that the country wants to keep faith with those Palestinians who are still in the terror business - anything for the revolution, you know. Others see the policy as a form of continuing rebellion or revenge against international civilized society; it's too bad Franz Fanon is not around to offer illumination on this score. We don't profess to understand, but we do note with astonishment that Algeria is prepared not only to cater to hijackers but actually publicly to defend doing so. Its principal argument is that, by its policy, lives are saved. "Experience shows," the Algerians said the other day, "that only by responding to skyjackers' demands has loss of lives been avoided."

But of course. Leave all the bank vaults open and there will be no bank-robbery fatalities, only peaceful transfers of bank notes. Give hijackers everything they want - money, safety, victory and the liberation of imprisoned mates - and they will have no need to kill anyone, unless they are feeling exceedingly nervous or vicious. The logic is flawless and, at the same time, absurd. Algeria, by advertising itself as the country of asylum, provides an incalculable incentive to hijackers to undertake an act that otherwise they might fear and forego. Algeria's policy is not much wrongheaded as criminal. Why must it be indulged? Why do responsible nations have air-transport contacts - or, for that matter, diplomatic contacts - with the outlaw state?