The six medics convicted of infecting 460 Libyan children with HIV have been released and are back in Bulgaria.
They had been spared the death penalty in favour of life imprisonment after a compensation deal (reputed to be $1m per child) was reached with the childrens’ families. Now it seems a political deal between the EU and Libya has got them out of prison.
I’m glad they’re free. The case was a farce and an example of outsiders being blamed for internal errors — during the trial a French scientist testified poor hygiene at the hospital likely led to the contamination of the blood used in the transfusions. This happened in 1997, two years before the medics arrived in Libya. They had confessed, but have since alleged this was tortured out of them.
While I welcome their release I have some concerns about the deal. The EU and Tripoli have apparently agreed a “partnership” (or at least agreed to work toward one). What this will entail is unclear. The first thought I had when I read the term “partnership” was of Libya joining the union. Perhaps it was just a stray neuron hoping to go out in style.
Libya has for the last four or five years been attempting to normalise relations with the world at large.
The country is wealthier than most in northern Africa because of its oil reserves — reserves which have recently been opened up to foreign companies. The medics’ case has blocked closer ties between the EU and Libya, but now the case has been resolved political and economic progress can be made.
Economically it makes sense for the EU to court Tripoli. I think it can be taken as given that the oil supply across Terra has been drastically depleted — and cordial relations between the union and Gaddafi’s country would certainly allow Europe freer access to such badly needed reserves.
Libya’s coast is not that far away from Italy. Pipelines have stretched further; for example, gas pipes stretch from Russia to western Europe.
I hope I am just being cynical. I would like to think there were altruistic concerns, and that the medics were brought home simply because of the injustice of their situation. But the skeptic in the back of my mind insists something else has happened. I fear the medics’ situation has been used for political gains on both sides. I hope I’m wrong.
Update 26/07/07: French president Nicolas Sarkozy had met with Gaddafi, promising to help Libya rejoin “the concert of nations”. The article points out that French firms have been losing out since US companies re-entered the north African country, so Sarkozy is eager to make sure things don’t go to pot.
A line from the Libyan foreign minister has me concerned, though. He said France and Libya are to sign an agreement on “co-operation on a military-industrial partnership”.
I appreciate France’s historical ties to Africa, although it never ruled over Libya. However, I don’t see the logic of forming such a partnership.
France is a major arms exporter, so in that respect the deal would probably benefit most Gaddafi’s nation (and the arms manufacturers too). But why sign the deal? That it’s “military-industrial” implies a manufacturing aspect to the agreement. Does it mean French arms firms will be setting up shop in Libya, or that a multimillion-dollar revamp of the Libyan armed forces is on the way?
I’ll watch this with interest. Is France preparing an anti-terror front? Is it securing its business interests in north Africa? Is it making a good diplomatic impression to ensure preferential access to Libya oil? Perhaps all of the above and more.