Source AP ©

Sarkozy: neither France nor the EU paid Libya for nurses' release

Neither France nor the EU paid money for the release of five nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to life in Libya on charges of contaminating children with the AIDS virus, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

However, he said Qatar mediated the release and hinted the Gulf country may have had a broader role in resolving the crisis. He did not elaborate.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov pardoned the six upon arrival in Sofia, the capital.

"Neither Europe nor France has made the smallest financial contribution to Libya," Sarkozy said at a news conference in Paris shortly after a French plane carrying the medics touched down in Sofia.

First lady Cecilia Sarkozy, on her second visit to Libya, and European Union commissioner for foreign affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, traveled to Libya Sunday to try to secure release of the prisoners, whose death sentences had already been commuted.

Libya accused the six of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV. The medics, jailed since 1999, deny infecting the children and say their confessions were extracted under torture.

Sarkozy "very warmly" thanked Qatar for its role in the early release of the prisoners but did not elaborate.

In response to a question about whether money had been paid to Libya for the release, Sarkozy said he wished to thank authorities of Qatar for their "mediation and their humanitarian intervention."

"It's up to them to say if they have anything to say on the subject" of their exact role, he said.

He also announced that he and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner would be visiting Libya on Wednesday in a bid to "help Libya rejoin the international community," confirming reports circulating in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

An accord worked out by the delegation included measures to improve the medical care of children with AIDS in Libya, the French presidential palace said earlier.

"We are still sympathetic with the other tragedy - the one of the infected Libyan children and their families," Parvanov, the Bulgarian president, said in Sofia.

In a statement, Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed their gratitude for the "gesture of humanity by Libya's highest leader" and said they were "committed to doing everything to help children with AIDS."

The statement said the medics' departure would not have been possible without Ferrero-Waldner's efforts and Cecilia Sarkozy's commitment.

This was the French first lady's second trip to Libya on behalf of the prisoners, and, like the first trip, it drew criticism from the rival Socialist camp. One opposition lawmaker charged that the president, in office since May 16, was profiting from the work of other nations and the EU, which have worked on behalf of the nurses for years.

Cecilia Sarkozy made an initial trip to Libya on July 12, meeting with Gadhafi, the imprisoned medics and the children infected with AIDS.

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