In May 2005, the european commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner visited the children, infected with HIV, in hospital in Benghazi. As a result of Bulgaria’s joining the EU, Brussels’ involvement was about to take on a new impetus. When she visited the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian-born doctor the same month, they had already spent six years in prison. But they were about to face a new trial, after the Libyan supreme court overruled the death sentences passed on them. The EU then turned its attention to diplomacy with the Libyan administration, which at the time was isolated and still suffering from years of international sanctions for Libya’s implication in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, and the destruction of a UTA jet over Niger in 1989. In May the following year, the medics went on trial for a second time. Despite expert evidence of their innocence, the six were found guilty, and sentenced to death again. They appealed. But behind the scenes, the quiet diplomacy was continuing. The British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair headed for Libya to negotiate the framework for an agreement which would compensate the families of the victims. Colonel Gaddhafi’s administration had every reason to resolve the crisis, and re-establish links with the West.
In June this year, EU representatives went to Libya again, this time to meet the defendants, for whom the light at the end of the tunnel seemed a long way off.It was only on the 10th July that Gaddhafi’s foundation announced a financial settlement with the children’s families.It was against this backdrop that France stepped in. President Sarkozy had given the liberation of the six his top priority. At the French national celebrations on the 14th of July, next to Sarkozy, a guest of honour – the Emir of Qatar, who would also play a mediating role. Two days before their release, the President sent his wife, Cecilia Sarkozy to Tripoli. The crisis finally broke on 17th July, when the families agreed to give up their call for the death penalty.