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France Confirms Agreement to Sell Arms to Libya


France and Libya have agreed to their first arms deal since the European Union lifted an arms embargo on Libya in 2004. The deal comes after the release last week of six medical workers who Libya accused of intentionally infecting Libyan children with the AIDS virus. As Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris, French opposition parties say they want proof that the arms sale was not part of a release package.

Libya has long been isolated from the international community, so for leader Moammar Gadhafi, the deal with France is proof that he is being welcomed back onto the world stage. It comes after the six medical workers were released last week and flown to Bulgaria and a subsequent visit to Libya by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. During that visit, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Gadhafi signed an agreement for Paris to provide a nuclear reactor to Libya that would turn seawater into drinking water.

Details of the arms deal began to emerge this week, when Mr. Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, told a French newspaper it was part of the agreement to free the medical workers.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin confirmed the deal on Friday morning. He said Libya has agreed to contracts worth $405 million including the purchase of communications equipment and medium-range anti-tank missiles from subsidiaries of the European Aerospace and Defense firm EADS. The minister denied that the deal has anything to do with the medical workers. He said an interministerial committee approved it in February.

He says the deal was not speeded up and that the discussion had been going on for years.

French opposition parties are demanding a parliamentary inquiry into the deal. Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande said he wants proof that the arms deal is unrelated to the release of the medical workers, who say they were tortured into making confessions in Libya.

He says he wants a parliamentary commission that can clarify whether the deal was the result of a normal business negotiation, or whether it was part of a negotiation with a country that held the medical workers for eight years and tried to use them as pawns.

The French government has not responded to Hollande's demand. Parliament has closed for the summer, and Mr. Sarkozy is in the United States on holiday.

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