U.S., EU, Bulgaria Negotiating Deal With Libya To Release Health Care Workers Accused of Infecting 400 Children with HIV
The U.S., the European Union and Bulgaria are nearing an agreement with Libya to release five Bulgarian health care workers sentenced to death for allegedly infecting about 400 children with HIV, officials announced on Wednesday, the Washington Times reports (Kralev, Washington Times, 11/3). The nurses, along with a Palestinian physician, were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting the children through contaminated blood products. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Many HIV/AIDS experts say that the infections likely are the result of the Libyan Health Ministry's failure to screen blood products adequately and poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya, where the children were infected. Libya's Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on Nov. 15 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/18). The deal likely would spur legislation to drop the death penalty and include "humanitarian assistance" for Libya, according to the Times. An unnamed senior State Department official said that a compromise that includes a new law abolishing the country's death penalty would provide the Libyan government with a smooth way out of the situation, the Times reports. However, an unnamed senior Libyan official denied a report by the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that quoted Arab officials close to the Libyan government as saying that a ban on capital punishment would open the way for the nurses' release. "There is no legislation or draft legislation to scrap the death penalty, and there is no plan to do that any time soon," the senior official said, adding, "The debate in Libya about the death penalty and other legal issues has nothing to do with the nurses and their sentences" (Washington Times, 11/3).
The Libyan government previously has said it would free the nurses if the Bulgarian government paid compensation equal to the amount Libya paid to relatives of the victims of the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which reportedly was carried out by Libyan secret service agents (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/19). Bulgaria has said any payment would equate to an admission of guilt (Washington Times, 11/3). Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin told reporters in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Wednesday, "Bulgaria has no intention whatsoever to pay compensation to the families of the children because there is no reason for us to do so" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 11/2). Bulgarian ambassador to the U.S. Elena Poptodorova said that any assistance Libya receives would be humanitarian in nature, not ransom, according to the Times. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said that the U.S. is "coordinating closely" with the EU and Bulgarian and Libyan governments. "We are in a position to provide diplomatic support in this effort, and I think the EU is really on the lead in terms of any potential humanitarian package," he said (Washington Times, 11/3).