France was thanked for its role in freeing six Bulgarian medics a year ago after they spent almost a decade jailed in Libya on AIDS and misconduct charges.
"France is the symbol of our freedom," nurse Kristiana Valcheva said during a meeting with France's ambassador to Bulgaria, Etienne de Poncins.
Advertisement"The name of Cecilia Sarkozy is a symbol for us," she added, referring to the former wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who helped negotiate the the medics' release last July.
Five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian-born doctor spent over eight years in a Libyan jail, most of it on death row, on charges of infecting 438 children with AIDS-tainted blood, but always maintained their innocence.
Their plight sparked an international outcry, forcing Libya to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment, and frantic last-minute negotiations led by Cecilia Sarkozy and European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner secured their final transfer home on July 24, 2007.
"France is more interested in us than any other country, including our own," Valcheva noted Monday.
The ambassador said he had invited the medics to a "friendly" lunch "to show that they are not forgotten."
"We will talk about what happened to them, their projects, how they lived during this year of freedom and the difficulties some of them faced," he added.
The first anniversary of the medics' return last week was largely ignored by Bulgarian authorities.
The six marked the date with a low-profile church mass and voiced disappointment over the government's failure to fulfill its pledges to grant them minimum pensions.
Two have returned to low-paid jobs as hospital nurses to make ends meet and two others have started physiotherapy studies, while persistent health problems have kept the fifth at home.
The Palestinian-born doctor, Ashraf al-Hajuj, who was given a Bulgarian passport to secure his release, has been doing odd jobs to support his wife and newborn son.
President Georgy Parvanov turned a somewhat cold eye on the medics' pleas in a recent newspaper interview saying "hundreds of thousands, not to say millions of people in Bulgaria" face their own problems.
"There should be an engagement but no-one should be privileged," he added.