Published by Wikileaks & Bivol.bg
 date: 8/30/2006 14:26 refid: 06SOFIA1230 origin: Embassy Sofia classification: CONFIDENTIAL destination:  header: VZCZCXRO2221 PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHSF #1230 2421426 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 301426Z AUG 06 FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2458 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE REUHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI  ----------------- header ends ----------------  C O N F I D E N T I A L SOFIA 001230    SIPDIS    SIPDIS    E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/30/2016  TAGS: PREL, PHUM, LY, BG  SUBJECT: BULGARIAN PRISONERS IN LIBYA: SOFIA SEEKS  CONTINUED SUPPORT AS END-GAME NEARS    REF: EMBASSY TRIPOLI E-MAIL 8/29/06    Classified By: CDA Alex Karagiannis, reasons 1.4(b) and (d).    1. (C) SUMMARY.  After the August 29 court hearing in Tripoli  (ref), Bulgarian officials are showing signs of guarded  optimism that the current judicial process may run its course  before the end of September.  This would open the way for a  political decision to return to Bulgaria the six nurses  imprisoned since 1999 on charges of deliberately spreading  the HIV virus in Benghazi.  The GOB is keeping a low  public-affairs profile as the process unfolds, and counts on  continued behind-the-scenes pressure on Libya from the U.S.  and EU.  The MFA thanked us for the Department's August 29  statement in support of the nurses.  END SUMMARY.    2. (C) We met August 30 with Petko Doykov, the director of  the MFA's Middle East Department, to discuss the results of  the previous day's court hearing in Tripoli.  Doykov said the  latest trial is unfolding according to Bulgarian  expectations.  He believes the court will hold one or two  more hearings and reach a verdict "in mid September."  Doykov  said that at the last session of the four-party talks with  Libya, Bulgaria emphasized that reaffirmation of the death  penalty would be an unacceptable outcome.  Instead, the GOB  hopes to see sentences ranging between 15 years to life  imprisonment.  There is no expectation that the nurses will  be found not guilty or otherwise set free by the current  court.  On the other hand, reaffirmation of the death  sentences would put the Bulgarian government in a difficult  political position, according to Doykov, forcing it to  respond publicly.  The tenor of the Bulgarian response will  also be influenced by the proximity of presidential  elections, scheduled to take place October 22.    3. (C) In either case, Bulgaria believes it has a tacit  understanding with Libya and the other parties to the talks  that the nurses will be returned to Bulgaria in short order  following the conclusion of the trial.  Most likely, this  would involve allowing the nurses to "serve out their  sentences" in Bulgaria according to the terms of the two  countries' bilateral agreement on prisoner exchanges.  Less  likely would be an outright pardon, perhaps in connection  with the beginning of Ramadan o/a September 22-23.  If the  best-case scenario does not materialize, Doykov surmised that  the nurses would have to wait until after Ramadan for the  Higher Judicial Council -- a political body chaired by the  Minister of Justice -- to act.    4. (C) Doykov said that the bi-weekly court appearances were  taking a heavy psychological toll on the five nurses, several  of whom were already in poor health after seven years in  Libyan prisons.  Meanwhile, the GOB is pushing ahead with  plans for a meeting of the Bulgaria-Libya Joint Commission  focusing on economic issues, which last met in 1999.  A team  of Libyan officials headed by the chief of the MFA's  Directorate for International Cooperation is scheduled to  visit Sofia September 19-20.  The Bulgarians consider the  timing of the visit a positive sign.  On the parallel issue  of debt forgiveness, "the paperwork has already been  completed" to forgive Libya's debt to Bulgaria.  All that is  required is a formal decision by the Council of Ministers to  forgive the debt -- estimated at roughly USD 27 million --  once the nurses are released.  The Bulgarians intention is to  package this as part of the Benghazi process.    5. (C) COMMENT.  Bulgarians are not prone to optimism even in  the best of circumstances, but Doykov was the least  pessimistic that we have ever seen him.  The Bulgarians  clearly believe they are approaching the end-game in this  seven-year saga. At the same time, Doykov asked for continued  strong U.S. and EU engagement until the nurses are released.  The Bulgarians are convinced that the U.S. is the only party  with enough leverage to convince Libya to step up to the  plate and take what may be a politically difficult decision  to send these five nurses back to Bulgaria.  END COMMENT  KARAGIANNIS 

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