Sources in Libya indicate that one of the contentious issues between the EU and Moammar Ghaddafi may be closer to resolution. Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have sat in prison for years, purportedly for giving HIV to children, a case that outside experts insist got trumped up to cover for Libya’s own incompetent hygiene at its medical facility. Now a financial deal may set them free as soon as next month:
Hopes are rising that five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly infecting children with the HIV will be released within weeks in a deal involving a multimillion-dollar international fund for healthcare to treat the victims.
European diplomats said last night they were now “cautiously optimistic” that the eight-year saga could be nearing its end, paving the way for improved relations between the EU and the Gadafy regime.
Optimism increased yesterday when the supreme court in Tripoli announced that its final decision on the sentences will be given on July 11. Observers described the session as businesslike and less confrontational than previous occasions, though families of the victims protested outside, holding pictures of their infected children, 56 whom have died.
Even though the six got the death penalty, Ghaddafi has been slow to execute them. He knows that their execution would create another huge rift between Libya and Europe, and Ghaddafi needs better relations with the West. Relations with other Arab countries have soured over the last few years, and the dictator needs friends somewhere.
Europe must feel similarly, spending $50 million to buy Ghaddafi’s friendship, or at least a ransom for the lives of the six. It has a high profile; Tony Blair pressed Ghaddafi on the case during his state visit to Tripoli earlier this year, and some of Europe’s most senior diplomats have worked to set the six free. Bulgaria joined the EU this year and the EU wants to show that it has the clout to protect Europeans abroad.
If all goes well, the court will meet next month and commute the sentences to time served, once the money gets to LIbya. It won’t go to the children who contracted HIV, but rather go to the state for AIDS-awareness programs — or so Libya claims. In any case, it looks like the interests of Libya and Europe have finally converged enough to allow Ghaddafi to finally release the six. Let’s hope that remains the case.