France apologies to Morocco after minister searched at Paris airport

PARIS (Reuters) - France apologised to Morocco on Friday after the kingdom's foreign minister was searched while transiting at a Paris airport, the latest incident that has strained ties between Rabat and its former colonial ruler.

The two countries are already at odds over a row that erupted in February when French police tried to question the head of Rabat's intelligence service during a visit to Paris over accusations his agency was involved in torture.

The dispute prompted Morocco to suspend judicial cooperation with France and to summon the French ambassador.

According to various Moroccan media reports citing sources, Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar was asked to remove his shoes, vest and belt at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport as he transited from The Hague to Morocco earlier this week.

His personal effects and suitcase were also searched despite indicating his position and diplomatic passport.

Foreign Minister "Laurent Fabius called his Moroccan counterpart to apologize on behalf of the French authorities for the inconvenience he suffered," foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told reporters.

"Errors were made at Charles de Gaulle airport. The minister immediately asked the relevant authorities at the Interior Ministry and airport that everything be done to strictly adhere to diplomatic rules and norms that apply to foreign ministers, heads of state and governments," said Nadal.

The incident comes after Spanish actor Javier Bardem angered Morocco by quoting a French ambassador as saying Paris chose to ignore human rights abuses in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco annexed in 1975.

France admitted Bardem had met the ambassador, although denied the envoy's remarks.

Highlighting the sensitive ties between the two countries since February, Morocco on Wednesday filed a counter lawsuit in France against the activists who are suing the intelligence chief.

French officials have tried to play down the rift, saying they were working to end it as quickly as possible.

"We are working with the Moroccan authorities to fully restore our bilateral cooperation, notably on the judicial side," Nadal said, declining to say what was specifically blocking progress in the talks.

"We have a good, trusting and very friendly relationship," Nadal said. "(The airport incident) was isolated, extremely regrettable and not linked to our relationship."

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Tom Heneghan)