TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The most senior Algerian official to visit Libya since its revolution promised on Monday that members of Muammar Gaddafi’s family given refuge on Algerian soil will not be allowed to meddle in Libyan affairs.
Algeria’s relations with Libya were strained by the rebellion that overthrew Gaddafi last year, disrupting security cooperation between the neighbors that Western states believe is crucial to combating al Qaeda in the Sahara desert.
The decision to allow Gaddafi’s daughter, wife and two of his sons to enter Algeria after they fled their homes last year deepened a row that had already been simmering over Libyan allegations Algeria had been too slow to back the revolt.
Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci, speaking to reporters after meeting his Libyan opposite number Ashour Bin Hayal, sought to repair the damage.
“Algeria took them (Gaddafi family members) in on humanitarian grounds. At the same time we will never allow them to interfere in Libyan affairs,” he said.
The dispute between Libya and Algeria has been rancorous. Some Libyans accused Algeria of supplying weapons to Gaddafi during last year’s revolt against his rule, an allegation Algeria denies.
When Gaddafi’s family members turned up in Algeria after Tripoli fell to the rebellion, a senior Libyan official accused Algeria of an “act of aggression.” Libyan border guards have barred some Algerian citizens from entering the country in retaliation.
There was a new round of recriminations in September last year after Gaddafi’s daughter Aisha telephoned a satellite television station from Algeria with a message of support for Gaddafi loyalists inside Libya.
Medelci’s visit represented the most visible sign yet that the two sides are trying to repair relations.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim leadership, said after meeting the Algerian minister: “We are two neighbors and must deal with the situation very realistically.”
“We strive to make our relationship with our brothers in Algeria a partnership,” he said. “Algeria’s security is the security of Libya and Libya’s security is the security of Algeria.”
“We dealt with the issue of the followers of the former regime (who are in Algeria), and the Algerians promised us that their activities will be limited.”
Insurgents, including al Qaeda’s North African branch and Tuareg separatists, use the Sahara desert’s vast expanses and porous borders to smuggle weapons and evade capture.
The problem has grown worse since the conflict in Libya, because huge quantities of weapons disappeared from Gaddafi’s arsenals and Libyan border security largely collapsed.
Before the conflict, Libya and Algeria exchanged intelligence on insurgents and cooperated over border security, but this ground to a halt after their row.
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Myra MacDonald