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Cablegate: Bulgaria Recovers From Nurses' Return

VZCZCXRO5998
RR RUEHTRO
DE RUEHSF #0981 2211411
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091411Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4127
INFO RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0265

UNCLAS SOFIA 000981

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL LY BU
SUBJECT: BULGARIA RECOVERS FROM NURSES' RETURN

Ref: Sofia 924

1. On August 2, the GOB approved forgiving USD 56.635 million of
communist-era debt owed by Libya. This debt forgiveness was
Bulgaria's contribution to the deal brokered by the EU for Libya to
release five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor. Whatever
else may be murky in the deal, Bulgaria's debt forgiveness is both
public and completed.

2. Since the nurses' July 24 return home, Bulgarian government and
society have been working to reintegrate them into a country that
has substantially changed over eight years. The Palestinian doctor,
who announced he wishes to remain in Bulgaria, has also been warmly
welcomed. After their return the nurses spent two weeks at the
government's VIP residential compound outside Sofia. The GOB
promised to find all the medics jobs, and a number of hospitals have
offered positions. The GOB gave each medic 10,000 leva (USD 7,000),
is covering their medical bills (two of the nurses needed
unspecified surgery), and covered pension and medical insurance
payments for the past eight years. Phone company MTEL is providing
each with an apartment and cell phone, a local newspaper owner gave
each another 10,000 leva, and a local construction company is
renovating one nurse's rural house. Two nurses have been provided
with hotel rooms in Bulgaria's premier ski resort as they readjust
to life in Bulgaria. Sofia's mayor offered to pay for language
classes and to help the Palestinian doctor settle in Sofia.

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3. Although a few groups complained the nurses were getting more
than ordinary citizens facing economic problems, the aftermath of
the medics' return has seen surprisingly little rancor and
recrimination. Bulgaria has, for the most part, moved on. When one
nurse's son demanded 100,000 euros from the GOB as compensation for
its failure to free the medics, the medics themselves announced they
had no claim on the government. Most Bulgarian press, always eager
to jump at a scandal, have stated the GOB did what it could. The
only scandals have been minor blips in the press, caused by France's
Avocats sans Frontieres (ASF). International press quoted ASF
lawyer Stephane Zerbib as claiming the medics were being held
prisoner in the presidential residence and would seek political
asylum in France. Another ASF lawyer, Emmanuel Altit, reportedly
arrived in Sofia shortly after the medics and tried to persuade them
to sue the GOB. The medics deny any intent to seek asylum abroad or
sue the GOB. The Palestinian doctor is apparently seeking to take
Libya to court on torture charges, but this is unlikely to be a hot
button issue here.

4. All in all, jubilation at the nurses' return has segued to near
matter-of-fact normalcy. If the nurses speak out about their
experience, that could change. For now, the mood is one of relief
and recuperation.

KARAGIANNIS

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