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Powerful Friends

  • July 25th, 2007
  • Posted by EUEditor

bulgarians-return-reduced.jpgBulgaria, a member of the European Union since the first day of this year, looks to have enjoyed some extra clout in getting its medical people out of a Libyan prison.


Very extensive diplomatic work – with EU representatives playing a prominent part — was stepped up this year, to get free the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian-born doctor, and today (25.7.07) they have been returned to Sofia, and liberated amidst public rejoicing.

The six people were arrested eight years ago on charges of deliberately infecting children at a Libyan hospital with HIV-AIDS; which they have always denied.

They were condemned to death and spent more than three years on death row before their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.


Their liberation comes with a deal between Libya and Europe, covering visa entry to the EU, trade access, assistance to Libyan hospitals, and, for the Europeans, strengthened controls on immigration movements through the North African country.

A fund has been set up to assist families of children who died from HIV-AIDS contracted in the hospital, at Benghazi, which defenders of the accused put down to generally poor standards of hygiene there.

Organisations including companies and governments are said to have contributed $US460-million (A$523.18-million, 25.7.07) to the fund, details yet to be published.


European intervention came to a head this week when the EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Cecilia Sarkozy, wife of the President of France, went to Libya in a French government aircraft to pick up the group and talke them on to Bulgaria.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner praised the action of the Libyan government in letting the people go and said she shared the joy of their families.

“For over eight years, we have never forgotten the suffering of the medical staff who have shown such dignity and fortitude during their long ordeal,” she said.

“This excellent outcome is the result of sustained joint efforts by the EU bringing together the Bulgarian authorities, consecutive EU presidencies, and a number of other Member States.

“This demonstrates the value of concerted EU action. The EU will always work tirelessly for justice for its citizens. This decision will open the way for a new and enhanced relationship between the EU and Libya and reinforce our ties with the Mediterranean region and the whole of Africa. At the same time, my thoughts are also with the Benghazi children and their families, and I will continue to give my support to them all.”

Picture: Celebrating the release