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14th Aug 2022

Nurses were freed after French arms deal, Gadhafi son says

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son has said that an armaments deal between France and Tripoli was the main reason for the release last month of six medics held in Libya.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi told French daily Le Monde on Wednesday that the brokered deal included the sale of French Milan anti-tank missiles as well as joint Franco-Libyan manufacture of military equipment.

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  • Benghazi - EU countries agreed to provide assistance to help upgrade a hospital in Benghazi, Libya's second city (Photo: Wikipedia)

He said he thought the tank deal would be worth "hundreds of millions of euros" before adding "Did you know it is the first armaments deal by a western country with Libya?"

French leader Nicolas Sarkozy denied there was any such agreement when asked by reporters on Wednesday.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi's claims are set to prompt much further investigation into the arrangement brokered by the EU that saw the release on 24 July of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor.

The release took place following intense diplomatic efforts by several actors including EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner as well as Mr Sarkozy's wife Cecilia who accompanied the commissioner on a Lybia trip.

The six had been detained in Libya for over eight years accused by the authorities of infecting children with the AIDS virus - a charge they always denied.

The Le Monde interview is already causing a political storm in France.

At the time of the nurses' release, there were few details on what exactly Paris and Tripoli had agreed.

More generally, EU countries had agreed to provide medical assistance for the children and to help upgrade a hospital in Benghazi, Libya's second city and the town where the infections first appeared in the 1990s.

The EU also agreed to improve its ties with Libya and build a partnership that would include free trade.

Germany criticises

The way Paris handled negotiations with Tripoli has given rise to some criticism in other parts of Europe. Germany has said it should have been kept more informed by France.

German newspaper Handelsblatt suggests that Berlin was at first not even consulted on the anti-tank missiles exchange although the consortium that builds them is a Franco-German-run outfit.

"Concerning the French offers to Libya, I would certainly have rather wanted that the European partners had been keep informed and been part of the process," foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a separate interview with the newspaper

"I think that the French side today sees that the sequence of events could have been better chosen," he said, adding that Paris was now making up for this.

For Libya's part, the release of the medics was seen as the last step in bringing the country in from the international cold.

It had international pariah status for its involvement in the blowing up of an aeroplane over Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people.

In 2003, the UN sanctions lifted sanctions against the country while the following year, the EU decided to lift its arms embargo.

However, a de facto embargo continued, according to Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, mainly due to the reluctance of Germany to sell arms to the country.

But with France "[Tripoli] has been in negotiations for a long time. We asked Sarkozy to accelerate things. Now that the medics' case has been dealt with, a golden opportunity has arisen."

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who heads the Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations, also noted – with 'visible satisfaction', according to Le Monde – that representatives from defence companies Thales and Sagem were currently in Libya for talks.

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