* Neighbours to exchange high-level meetings
* Talks to focus on combatting insurgents, arms smugglers
* Libya, Algeria ties fraught since Gaddafi’s overthrow
By Lamine Chikhi and Ali Shuaib
ALGIERS/TRIPOLI, Feb 22 (Reuters) - North African neighbours Libya and Algeria are to exchange high-level visits in an attempt to re-launch cooperation in fighting arms trafficking and Islamist insurgents in the Sahara desert.
Security ties had been effectively on hold since the revolt last year which ended Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, because of disputes between Algeria and Libya’s new leadership.
Cooperation between the two countries is a crucial component in trying to stop arms smugglers and insurgents, including al Qaeda, using the Sahara desert as a safe haven - a problem made worse by the instability following Gaddafi’s fall.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia told Reuters his Libyan counterpart Fawzi Abdel A‘al would soon visit Algeria.
“What is important in this issue is security on our borders and stability in Libya, because instability will have repercussions for us,” Kablia said in an interview late on Tuesday.
“We will soon welcome the Libyan interior minister, and likewise visits are also planned by Algerian officials to Libya,” Ould Kablia said.
The Libyan interior minister confirmed that a meeting was planned with his Algerian opposite number.
Abdel A‘al, speaking to Reuters, said there was an agreement that Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia would visit Libya. He did not say when this would happen.
There have been no high-level visits between Libya and Algeria since a NATO-backed rebellion ended Gaddafi’s 42-year rule and installed a new leadership.
Algeria’s relations with Libya’s new leaders have been fraught because Algeria did not back the anti-Gaddafi rebellion and was slow to recognise the rebel leadership.
The tension was heightened when Algeria decided to give refuge, it said on humanitarian grounds, to Gaddafi’s wife, daughter and two of his sons who fled there after Tripoli fell to the rebellion.
A series of security incidents in the past weeks have, however, underlined the need for the two countries to patch up their differences and cooperate.
Last month, an Algerian regional governor was kidnapped and taken by his captors across the border into Libya, where he was released about 24 hours later. Algerian security sources said the kidnappers had ties to al Qaeda’s north African wing.
This month, Algerian security forces uncovered a cache of weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, believed to have been smuggled in from Libya, a security source briefed on the discovery said.
The Libyan Interior Minister told Reuters the fact that Algerian security forces had found weapons caches was testament to good cooperation with their Libyan counterparts.
Western governments are keen for regional states to work more closely together to combat insurgents in the Sahara desert.
It is an area where al Qaeda mounts kidnappings and occasional attacks on Western targets, and where, in Mali, Tuareg rebels are fighting government security forces.
Those problems have been aggravated by the rebellion in Libya, during which huge quantities of weapons disappeared from Gaddafi’s arsenals and Libyan border security largely collapsed.
Western states believe there is a risk that insurgencies in the Sahara could fuel violent Islamist movements in other parts of Africa, particularly Somalia and northern Nigeria, heightening the threat to Western interests. (Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn)