Assistant Secretary of State Welch To Visit Libya To Bolster Relations Following Medical Workers’ Release, Official Says
David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, plans to visit Libya next week to bolster relations between the country and the U.S. following the release of six medical workers, a senior official at the U.S. Department of State said on Wednesday, Reuters reports (Pleming, Reuters, 8/15).
The medical workers in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIV through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. A court in Tripoli, Libya, in December 2006 convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death. The medical workers then filed an appeal of the December 2006 conviction with the Libyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction last month. After Libya's Supreme Judicial Council reduced the sentence to life in prison, the six medical workers were released and pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in the country.
The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- in July said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. The Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's conviction of the medical workers or issue a less serious sentence -- reduced the sentences to life in prison after each family received the compensation package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/9).
The state department "wanted an interval to pass after the Bulgarian medics' case so that we could have a good conversation with the Libyan leadership," the official said, adding, "We want to consult with them about all matters of regional concern and of course discuss how to move forward with our bilateral relationship" (Reuters, 8/15). Welch also will discuss plans for a trip by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Libya this year, the official said (Lee, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/15).