14th Aug 2022

Libya frees European medical staff

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been freed after being held in Libya for the past eight years having been convicted of infecting 438 Libyan children with HIV. Meanwhile, the European Commission says it "salute[s] the humanitarian gesture of Libya."

The six medics – who say they are innocent – left Tripoli on Tuesday morning (24 July) in a French plane and headed for Sofia in Bulgaria, together with EU foreign affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and France's first lady, Cecilia Sarkozy.

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  • Benghazi (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU envoy went to Tripoli on Sunday (22 July) to meet with Libyan officials to negotiate the medics' release to Bulgaria after a Libyan court last week commuted their death sentence in favour of life imprisonment.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and French president Nicolas Sarkozy "welcome the agreement which has finally allowed this release and this return to Bulgaria of the nurses detained for more than eight years, as well as of the Palestinian doctor," a commission statement said.

The two leaders also "salute the humanitarian gesture of Libya and of its highest leader and commit themselves to do everything to help the children attained of aids."

A Libyan close to the negotiations told Reuters that 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 had also agreed to improve its ties with Libya and build a partnership that would include free trade, the source said.

Libya has long accused the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor – who last month got Bulgarian citizenship - of deliberately infecting 438 Libyan children with HIV.

The medics, jailed since 1999, deny infecting the children and say their confessions were extracted under torture.

Foreign experts say the infections started before the medics arrived at the hospital, and are more likely to have been a result of poor hygiene.

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