Libya's neighbors less concerned than US about Qaddafi

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Not everyone thinks Libyan-sponsored terrorism is on the rise again. Despite American accusations that Libya is planning new attacks, some of Libya's neighbors -- including its most adamant foe, Egypt -- say that since the United States air raid on Libya in April, Libya has been curtailing its foreign adventures.

These neighbors -- Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt -- say Libya is trying to enhance its influence with its neighbors through good neighborliness and economic enticement. Most of these countries have had problems with Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi in the past.

Egyptian sources in Cairo are skeptical of US allegations that Colonel Qaddafi has planned new high-profile attacks against US interests. They and Western diplomats question whether the US really intends to launch new strikes against Libya.

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``The American raid on Tripoli was in principle unacceptable,'' an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official says. ``But since then, the Libyans have been cooling down. They want to let the tempest pass, and they're trying to limit their activities externally. They are definitely more cautious.''

But the official says Cairo is not confident that there had been a basic change in Libyan policy and speculates that it is only a change in tactics. ``They may pick targets that are less spectacular than Rome or Vienna airports,'' the official says.

Meanwhile in Tripoli Monday, the Libyan leader marked the 17th anniversary of his rise to power. In a three-hour speech to about 5,000 people, Qaddafi praised the Soviet Union and lashed out at the US and the Reagan administration. He later reviewed a 1-hour military parade.

Washington, the sources in Egypt say, continues to show great concern over Libyan influence in the region, particularly in Sudan. One Western source claims the US Embassy in Sudan repeatedly threatened Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi that the US would reallocate its aid for Sudan unless he reduced the Libyan presence there.

For the moment, Sudanese officials say they are not overly concerned by Libyan intentions toward their country. According to a high-level Sudanese diplomat here, ``We are having good relations with Libya.''

The Sudanese have also said that they are mediating between Libya and Chad, another region of particular concern to Washington.

Last March, Libyan troops came to Sudan disguised as relief workers, according to Western diplomats. The troops were monitoring the border area with Chad, the diplomats say. Both the US and Egypt had urged Mr. Mahdi to have them removed.

Sudanese officials say Qaddafi recently removed some 1,000 of these Libyan troops in reponse to a request by the prime minister. But, at the same time, Mahdi concluded a $100 million trade accord with Libya. Initially upset by Sudan's friendly ties with Libya, Egypt is now confident that Mahdi senses the dangers of military involvement with Libya, an Egyptian official says.

In an apparent exception to his new air of restraint, Qaddafi reportedly has sent new arms to Chad to bolster forces rebelling against the government in Ndjamena.

Chadian President Hissein Habr'e has been fighting a long war against Libyan-supported forces in the north. Two years ago, Libya and France came to an agreement for the withdrawal of their troops from Chad. But Libya never fully withdrew from the north, giving the French a reason to stay and bolster Mr. Habr'e.

Habr'e's government says there are about 6,000 Libyan troops in Chad, and charged over the weekend that some 3,000 more troops were moving toward the border between Chad and Libya. Egypt estimates, that there are less than 1,000 Libyan troops in Chad.

Last week, according to Egyptian sources, Qaddafi sent a convoy of more than a dozen trucks into northern Chad carrying mostly small weapons. Habr'e immediately dispatched an envoy to Paris, and the French sent a tough message to Qaddafi, threatening action if the Libyans upset the balance.

Libyan actions toward Tunisia have been conciliatory of late, according to Egyptian officials. Relations between former Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Mzali and Libya were not good, the officials say. Late in 1985, Libya expelled thousands of Tunisian workers, fueling an economic crisis in Tunisia. But, the recent sacking of Mr. Mzali by President Habib Bourguiba, has been followed by a Libyan effort to mend fences by offering better conditions for Tunisian workers in Libya.

Egyptian officials say that Qaddafi's policy toward Morocco -- his desire to maintain the treaty of unity that both signed -- stemmed from the Colonel's discomfort with political isolation. The Moroccans, they say, wanted to limit Libyan support of the Polisario offensive against Morocco that has been raging for a decade on the border with Algeria border.

This past weekend, however, King Hassan broke his two year old treaty of unity with Libya. He said this was because of Libya's condemnation of a recent summit conference King Hassan held with Israel's Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Qaddafi had refrained from breaking relations with Morocco, but had heavily criticized Hassan about the Israeli Prime Minister's visit.

Egyptian newspapers have written that Hassan no longer fears Libyan support of the Polisario and also calculated he could score points with the US by breaking the two year old treaty.

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