Medics Freed After Eight-Year Ordeal in Libya Six foreign medics are resting up at the Bulgarian presidential residence after a harrowing eight-year ordeal in Libya. They had been imprisoned since 1999, accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV in a Libyan hospital.
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Medics Freed After Eight-Year Ordeal in Libya

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Medics Freed After Eight-Year Ordeal in Libya

Medics Freed After Eight-Year Ordeal in Libya

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Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor are resting at the Bulgarian presidential residence today after a harrowing eight-year ordeal in Libya. The six were on death row there, accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV in a Libyan hospital.

Exactly a week ago, we talked to journalist Matthew Brunwasser in Sofia, Bulgaria when their death sentences were commuted to life imprison. Matthew Brunwasser joins us again.

And, not surprisingly, the six were flown to Bulgaria where the president pardoned them. Matthew, what kind of deals were cut to get them out and get them in Bulgaria?

Mr. MATTHEW BRUNWASSER (Journalist): Well, the most recent deal, to allow the nurses to come back to Bulgaria, was cut during a visit by the French First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy and the EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. An agreement was signed for full, normal diplomatic relations between Libya and the European Union, but it still needs to be approved by the 27 member states of the EU.

Currently, there are no bilateral agreements between Tripoli and any EU member states, since sanctions were imposed on Libya after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

SIEGEL: So in effect, Moammar Gaddafi has managed to turn the clock back in terms of (unintelligible) with Europe at least to the pre-Lockerbie days. And also, part of the deal, I gather, is that for every one of the - and there are few hundred children who were infected with HIV at this hospital, I gather -there'll be a million dollars for each of them.

Mr. BRUNWASSER: Yes. There was a deal reached last week to allow the charges to be released against the medical workers. It's a little bit complicated. First, the supreme court upheld the death sentence. After that, the families of the infected children agreed to not insist on the death penalty in exchange for about $1 million for each family. So we're talking about $460 million.

The Gaddafi foundation, headed by Saif al-Islam, the son of the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, has said that the money came from debt forgiveness from Bulgaria as well as a few other east European countries - Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Bulgaria has since admitted that it has forgiven Libya's debt from the Cold War era, but the other countries have denied it. So the money did not actually come from Bulgaria. It came most likely from the Libyan government.

SIEGEL: Now, we should point out here - we always should when dealing with this story - that outside of Libya, no one accredited this plot. No one said that these doctors and nurses were likely responsible for the HIV. The hospital was probably using unclean instruments or something. It seems, though, Libya made that pretty well by keeping these people hostage on death row for eight years.

Mr. BRUNWASSER: It certainly looks that way. Gaddafi was definitely in a very difficult position. On the one hand, for eight years, he has been blaming the foreigners for the HIV infections of more than 400 children, but at the same time, he wants closer relations with the West, and the diplomatic pressure has been increasing dramatically for the last three years. So this really seems like perhaps it was the only way that he could save face.

SIEGEL: It would seem that one dimension to this development - and it would presumably important to Bulgarians - is how other Europeans, the European Union and the new French president's wife, Cecilia Sarkozy, really went to bat for these half-dozen people who'd been held in Libya all this time.

Mr. BRUNWASSER: Yes. They certainly did. At the same time, Libya offers enormous economic opportunities and oil. The Libyan economy is very undeveloped, and European businesses as well as U.S. businesses wants to get in as soon as possible.

SIEGEL: So you're saying there are many winners in this deal today? It would not seem that the cause of truth is one of them that many compromises with - the facts have been made in order to get these folks out of prison.

Mr. BRUNWASSER: Yes, I think Bulgaria definitely does feel that justice has been violated, but I think the return of the medics is absolutely welcomed however it was done.

SIEGEL: Well, Matthew Brunwasser in Sofia, Bulgaria, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BRUNWASSER: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: And you can see a timeline of the medical workers' eight-year saga and read an analysis of the shift in U.S.-Libya relations at our Web site,

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