Libyan Officials Deny Reports of Trade Embargo Over Case Involving Bulgarian Nurses Who Allegedly Infected Children With HIV
The Libyan government has denied earlier reports that the country will impose a trade and investment embargo on Bulgaria because of the government's refusal to pay compensation to the families of more than 400 HIV-positive children allegedly infected by five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, Sofia News Agency reports (Sofia News Agency, 4/14). Reuters on Wednesday reported that an unnamed Libyan government official had confirmed such an embargo based on the Bulgarian government's refusal to pay compensation to the victims' families and "the Bulgarian government's campaign to tarnish Libya's image" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/14). Following the report, Bulgarian Ambassador to Libya Zdravko Velev contacted the Libyan Foreign Affairs Ministry, which then issued a statement saying that "no such decision has been taken by the Libyan authorities" (Agence France-Presse, 4/14). Bulgarian Economy Minister Milko Kovachev is scheduled to travel to Libya this week for a two-day visit to attempt to "boost economic ties" between the two countries, Bulgarian government officials said on Sunday, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/17).
The ongoing disagreement between Bulgaria and Libya stems from a case being appealed to the Libyan Supreme Court by the Bulgarian and Palestinian health care workers, who in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting the children through contaminated blood products. The workers, who have been detained in the country since 1999, also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Libyan Leader Moammar Kadafi has accused the health workers of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service to kill the children in an attempt to destabilize the country. However, many observers believe the children were infected because of Libya's failure to screen blood products adequately and poor sterilization practices at the hospital where the children were infected. At least 40 of the 426 children who allegedly were infected at the hospital have died of AIDS-related illnesses (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/14).
Other Recent Developments
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary and World Bank President-elect Paul Wolfowitz on Sunday offered U.S. assistance to Bulgaria in the case, the Sofia News Agency reports. Wolfowitz, who was conferring with Bulgarian Finance Minster Milen Velchev during a meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C, also inquired about possible compromises in the case (Sofia News Agency, 4/17). In addition, 13 unnamed Libyan doctors recently posted on a Libyan opposition Web site a letter claiming that medics and security officials linked to Kadafi deliberately infected the children. The doctors say they can provide "irrefutable evidence" absolving the Bulgarian health workers on the condition of protection for themselves and their families (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/14).