Cecilia Sarkozy sheds light on Libya trip

5th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 4, 2007 (AFP) - French First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy said in an interview published Tuesday that her trip to Libya to secure the release of Bulgarian medics was a mission to "save lives" as the opposition stepped up calls for her to testify before an inquiry.

PARIS, Sept 4, 2007 (AFP) - French First Lady Cecilia Sarkozy said in an interview published Tuesday that her trip to Libya to secure the release of Bulgarian medics was a mission to "save lives" as the opposition stepped up calls for her to testify before an inquiry.

In her first interview about her mission, Cecilia Sarkozy said she had "face-to-face talks, in English" with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and held marathon negotiations for 50 hours with officials in Tripoli to win the release of the six medics.

"I arrived there as a woman, as a mother, without necessarily dwelling on the complexity of international relations, but with the firm intention of saving lives," the wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy said in the interview with L'Est Republicain daily.

The 49-year-old first lady made two trips to Tripoli as the president's personal envoy and escorted the six medics home to Sofia on July 24 at the end of their eight-year ordeal in a Libyan jail on charges of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS.

She brushed aside suggestions that Paris offered an arms deal and nuclear cooperation agreement with Tripoli in exchange for their release.

"As far as I'm concerned, there was only medical compensation," she said.

But the interview did little to dispel calls for her to appear before a parliamentary commission of inquiry into a possible trade-off between the medics' release and a French-Libyan arms deal struck the same week.

Cecilia Sarkozy confirmed that she would not testify before the panel.

"I don't believe it is my place," she told the paper.

The French presidency had said she would not testify to the inquiry that is to hold hearings later this year, invoking the separation of powers between parliament and the president.

"She can and she must appear before a commission of inquiry that requests her to do so, just like any other citizen," said Socialist member of parliament Francois Locle.

Locle said that the status of the president's wife in France was "ill-defined" and that if she intends to undertake public endeavours, it would be useful to clarify her role.

A former PR executive and model, Cecilia Sarkozy has been the topic of much speculation as to how she intends to fulfill the role of French first lady that has been mostly confined to that of the president's accompanying spouse coupled with some high-profile humanitarian work.

Former Socialist minister Pierre Moscovici said the interview with the regional daily confirmed that "she may have things to say."

"If she says such things to the press, why can't she say them to a representative panel?" asked Moscovici.

Jean-Francois Cope, who leads Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party in parliament, dismissed the controversy over her involvement: "She played a major role, it is all to the honour of France."

But European deputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit described the Libya affair as the Sarkozy couple's "marital therapy", saying the French president was driven by the need to carve out a role for a demanding wife.

Arms contracts "were unblocked by the fact that France, in exchange for a photo of Cecilia with the Bulgarian nurses, gave the Libyans arms, a nuclear power station and the recognition of a dictator," he charged.

France and Libya have both denied any trade-off between the medics' release and two deals announced just days later: a military cooperation accord with Paris and a deal for Tripoli to purchase anti-tank missiles from the European aerospace giant EADS, in which France is the top public stakeholder.

AFP

Subject: French news

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