* Libya's new rulers suspect Algeria's motives in revolt
* Diplomats say no proof Algeria helped Gaddafi
* Perception risks hurting Algeria's international standing
By Christian Lowe
ALGIERS, Nov 9 Border guards loyal to Libya's
new rulers were waving travellers through the Ras Jdir crossing
from Tunisia into Libya one day last month, until a man
approached their checkpoint and handed them his Algerian
"Go back to where you came from," the border guard told the
owner of the passport, in an exchange witnessed by a Reuters
journalist. "I do not need to waste my time talking to
This kind of incident has become commonplace ever since
power in Libya was taken by a new government which says it
believes neighbouring Algeria was on the side of former Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi in the revolt against his rule.
Western diplomats and analysts say there is no hard evidence
to show the Algerian government was supporting Gaddafi. Algeria
denies it too, saying it stuck to a position of strict
neutrality and complied with United Nations sanctions.
Nevertheless, the perception of Algeria as a country that
would have preferred Gaddafi to win the conflict has stuck in
the minds of many Libyans and some people in Western capitals.
That has harmed Algeria's ties with Libya -- a relationship
which matters to the outside world because the neighbours need
to work together to prevent the vast quantities of weapons and
explosives in Libya ending up in the hands of al Qaeda.
It has also hurt the international standing of Algeria, a
country which has spent the last 10 years shedding the label of
outcast attached to it over its past human rights record.
"Algeria will have to consider the damage to its own image
internationally by being seen to be pro-Gaddafi, even if we do
not believe that is the case," said a Western diplomat.
But the damage will be limited. With its oil and gas
reserves and its proudly nationalistic outlook, Algeria is well
insulated from international criticism.
Algeria's relationship with Libya has, in the past eight
months, been sucked into a spiral of accusation and
counter-accusations from which it will struggle to recover.
It began with allegations of secret Algerian flights
delivering arms to Gaddafi -- denied by Algeria's government and
dismissed by senior U.S. and European officials.
Although one U.S. legislator has asked Congress to
investigate media reports that Algeria was instrumental in
sending military aid to the former leader.
It was aggravated by Algeria voicing worries about hardline
Islamists infiltrating the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, and of
unsecured weapons falling into the hands of al Qaeda. Algeria's
reluctance to recognise the National Transitional Council (NTC)
as Libya's rightful government did not help.
The problems deepened with Algeria's decision to give refuge
to Muammar Gaddafi's wife, daughter and two of his sons. Algiers
said it was a humanitarian act; a senior Libyan official called
it an "act of aggression".
Assertions that Algeria gave any practical help to Gaddafi
in his fight to retain power are unproven.
Algeria's leaders had no personal affection for Gaddafi but
they -- like many other Arab leaders -- were wary of backing
Libya's revolt because they feared to do so could encourage
uprisings on their own territory.
But what is clear is that many Algerian decision-makers
would rather the revolt had never begun, and once it had, were
nervous about the direction it was taking.
The reason behind that thinking is Algeria's long insurgency
by Islamist militants which killed about 200,000 people and
which is still not decisively stamped out.
Algeria's government believes the revolt in Libya could be
exploited by militants to acquire weapons and launch new attacks
on its soil.
It is also uncomfortable that Islamists who share
ideological ties to the militants it has been fighting are now
in positions of power in Libya.
One such person is Abdel Hakim Belhadj. He spent time in
Afghanistan and had indirect dealings with al Qaeda leader Osama
bin Laden. He now renounces violence and is head of Tripoli's
military council, a body that comes under the NTC umbrella.
"It is very difficult to have a dialogue with someone like
Belhadj, for example," said Abdelhamid Si Afif, a member of the
executive of Algeria's ruling FLN party who also chairs the
foreign affairs committee in parliament.
"He is known in Algeria for his acquaintances with Islamist
extremists. Algeria has known terrorism."
Algeria has not made a great effort to articulate that point
of view. No government minister has given a detailed, public
explanation of the policy on Libya since the revolt began.
That is part and parcel of the Algerian government's outlook
on the outside world, said Geoff Porter, founder of North Africa
"Algeria does indeed run the risk of isolating itself on the
international stage, but Algeria has always been a fiercely
independent country," he said.
"It has never been a country that explains its policies, but
instead expects that its actions will ultimately speak for
Algeria's government has acknowledged the need to fix its
relationship with Libya's new rulers.
Trade with Libya is tiny. But Algeria wants to be able to
engage with the NTC to help catch Islamist militants it believes
are a threat, and to stop weapons, such as shoulder-fired
anti-aircraft missiles, being used on its territory.
Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci has had meetings
with NTC representatives on neutral territory and has invited
Libyan officials to Algiers for talks.
Yet Algeria appears less concerned about the broader
international repercussions of its stance on Libya -- mainly
because it sees little direct impact.
As the world's sixth biggest exporter of natural gas and
owner of the 15th largest foreign exchange reserves, it does not
depend on aid. Its socialist-style economic policy has little
desire for foreign investment.
"We are not the kind of people who follow others' lead,"
said Si Afif, the senior member of the ruling party. "We are a
sovereign country and we will say what is in the interests of
the country," he said.
(Additional reporting by Lamine Chikhi and Larbi Louafi in