Six foreign medics convicted of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV have left Libya for Bulgaria aboard a French presidential jet, France said on Tuesday. "The aircraft of the French republic has taken off from Libya bound for Sofia with the five Bulgarian nurses and the doctor of Palestinian origin on board," the French presidency said in a statement.
"The French President, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, and the President of the European Commission, Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, welcome the agreement that has at last allowed this release and the return to Bulgaria of the nurses held for more than eight years, and of the Palestinian doctor," the statement conveyed.
Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry confirmed the medics had left Libya. "They have left their airport in Libya and are now flying ... We expect in them in Sofia," Deputy Foreign Minister Feim Chaushev told Reuters.
The medics were accompanied by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and France's First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy, Chaushev disclosed. The two were in Tripoli to help release the medics, who say they are innocent.
Cecilia Sarkozy arrived in Tripoli on Sunday. Libyan officials said she met Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday.
President Sarkozy himself spoke with Gadhafi by telephone several times, at least one of them on Monday, his office said. French media and Libyan officials said the French president will visit Libya on Wednesday if the Bulgarians are repatriated. "What I know is that this is very, very tough. This has lasted eight and a half years," Sarkozy said Monday, according to the AP.
Libya lifted death sentences against the medics last week and commuted them to terms of life imprisonment. Bulgaria made an official request Thursday for Tripoli to repatriate the medics to allow them to serve their sentences in Bulgaria. Last month, the country granted citizenship to the Palestinian doctor, Ashraf al-Hazouz, so he would also have the right to stay in Bulgaria.