Bulgaria may forgive Libya debt in HIV case

Bulgaria is considering writing off Soviet-era debt it is owed by Libya to contribute to a deal that led to the release of six medics convicted of infecting Libyan children with HIV.

After more than eight years in jail, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who recently took Bulgarian citizenship were freed on Tuesday under a cooperation accord between Tripoli and the European Union.

“Undoubtedly, the issue of [forgiving] the Libyan debt is one of the possible ways for Bulgaria to contribute,” Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The debt amounts to about $54-million. We will look at other possibilities too ... because this is a humanitarian act, not a ransom.” He did not elaborate.

If Sofia forgives the Libyan debt, accumulated for arms and technical deliveries during the communist era, the money would be recycled into an international fund set up to help the families of more than 400 HIV victims.

The six medics were flown to Sofia on a French jet after the EU, which Bulgaria joined in January, brokered a last-minute deal on medical aid and political ties with Libya.

Bulgaria and its Western allies had said the medics were innocent and suggested that not freeing them would hurt Libya’s efforts to emerge from decades of diplomatic isolation imposed for what the West called its support of terrorism.

Joy at homecoming

The small Balkan country, Bwhose people wore ribbons saying “You are not alone” to support the medics, rejoiced at their return.
“Freedom!”, “At Last!”, “ulgaria is relieved, the medics are back home” read front-page headlines on Wednesday.

“I was so happy yesterday [Tuesday] when I saw them coming back, I even cried. It is unbelievable things went so wonderfully well,” said 80-year-old pensioner Slavka Ivanova.

The six, who will stay for the next few days in the presidential residency on the outskirts of Sofia and undergo medical checks, will give a news conference later.

Doctors said they were in a very fragile emotional state after the end of their ordeal.

“I still cannot grasp it ... I am free, I am free,” 52-year-old nurse Valia Cherveniashka told national television on Tuesday evening. “We have been hanging on during these eight years, we may as well break down now.”

Bulgarian news agency BTA reported that doctor Zdravko Georgiev, who was acquitted by a Libyan court in the HIV case in 2004 but not allowed to leave the country until Tuesday, was admitted to hospital with blood pressure problems.

Last week Libya commuted the death sentences against the six to life imprisonment following the payment of a $460-million financial settlement—$1-million to each HIV victim’s family. That opened the way for the medics’ release. - Reuters

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