Tripoli, 16 April:
NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil arrived in Algeria on Sunday for a two-day official visit. Links between the two countries have been strained over Algeria’s late backing for last year’s revolution and its continued refusal to extradite members of the Qaddafi family who went into exile there.
The hope in both capitals, is that the visit will help improve relations.
Jalil was met at Algiers airport by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and a number of senior government officials and foreign diplomats.
The visit which, according to Algerian officials “offers an opportunity to confer on the latest developments in the region in light of recent events”, was organized some weeks ago. Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said the visit would “open new horizons” for cooperation and that there was a “strong political will” and “clear view” on both sides to develop bilateral ties.
On Monday, following talks Bouteflika, Jalil said that Libya wanted a bright future with Algeria. “We came to Algeria to strengthen the bonds of friendship and fraternity between the peoples of Algeria and Libya, and we aspire to a bright future with Algeria,” he said.
In regards to issues discussed, he said they concentrated primarily on security issues and securing the borders between Algeria and Libya in order, as he put it, “to ensure the safety of Algeria and Libya through the support of the Algerian government on this issue knowing that Libya is still under development.”
Jalil had said in February, however, that relations between Libya and other neighbouring countries could never be normalized if they continued to refuse to hand over leading Qaddafi figures. The comment was seen at the time very much directed at Algeria, where Qaddafi’s widow Safiya, sons Mohamed and Hannibal and daughter Aisha now reside, as well as at Niger where Saadi is in exile.
Jalil has continued to press the demands. He made them again at the Arab summit in Baghdad at the end of last month.
The issue of Qaddafi’s family were also at the centre of talks between Jalil and Bouteflika both on Sunday and Monday, according to the Algerian state news agency APS on Monday.
However, the ice has been breaking gradually. The first serious effects at reconciliation were made by Algerian foreign minister Medelci during the Maghreb Arab Union summit in Rabat in mid-February when he met with Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour Ben Khayal.
That meeting resulted in Medelci being invited to Tripoli at the beginning of March where he offered Algerian help to Libya to “build an army and police.”
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia attended the regional security summit in Tripoli, also in March.
Shortly after his return to Algiers, Kablia said that plans to form a joint border committee would be announced before the end of the month. That duly happened on March 27 when Libyan Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal went to Algiers for a two-day visit where he met with President Bouteflika.
Algeria is particularly worried about arms from Libya flooding across the porous desert border. This is seen as a further incentive in Algiers to build relations with the new Libya.
Border security issues and bilateral cooperation were the main subjects at a meeting in Algiers on Sunday between Medelci and NTC member Salem Massoud Kenan, who is accompanying Jalil.
The meeting was attended by Algerian ministers of Trade, Mustapha Benbada, Industry and Investment Promotion (Mohamed Benmeradi) and Maghreb and African Affairs (Abdelkader Messahel).
Kenan was quoted by the Algerian news agency APS, saying during the visit that Libya “appreciates and understands the humanitarian position of Algeria which has taken in members of the Qaddafi family” said Kenane.
“We are ready to help our Algerian brothers in case of any behavior or action by these people that could hurt the interests and security of Libya,” he added, referring to calls made by Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha on Libyans to rebel against the new authorities.