EU officials in Libya for talks on medics

TRIPOLI (Reuters) — Two senior European officials were on their way to Libya on Sunday to try to solve the case of six foreign medics sentenced to death for deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV, the children’s families said.Driss Lagha, chairman of the Association for the Families of the HIV-infected Children, said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would visit the children’s families in the eastern city of Benghazi.

In Berlin, the German foreign ministry confirmed Steinmeier was travelling to Libya with Ferrero-Waldner for two days of consultations aimed at winning the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor detained since 1999. “The EU and the German EU presidency are appealing to Libya to exert the necessary influence so that they can be released as soon as possible,” a ministry spokesman said.

The six foreign medics were convicted in December of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV in a highly politicised trial that has hampered attempts by OPEC-member Libya to restore full relations with the West.

The medics say they are innocent and were tortured to make them confess, and the United States and the European Union have stepped up pressure on Tripoli to release them.

Lagha told Reuters Ferrero-Waldner and Steinmeier would “begin a visit today to the city of Benghazi to visit the childrens’ families and meet representatives of those families regarding the continuation of the talks to reach a settlement regarding the children’s case.”  “This visit comes in a continuation of the efforts exerted by the Qadhafi Foundation with the international community to reach a solution to this case and to guarantee the life and future of the infected children.”

He was referring to a charity run by Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s son, Saif Al Islam, which said last month that the medics’ case could be solved very soon following talks between the families’ representatives and the international community in Brussels on May 10.

Lagha himself has said he hoped to reach an agreement on the case before June 21. Lagha is a father of one of the hundreds of Libyan children infected by HIV and is one of the Libyan negotiators trying to seek a settlement of the case.

Some Western scientists say negligence and poor hospital hygiene are the real culprits and the six are scapegoats.

Libya has suggested it can free the nurses if an agreement is reached to pay compensation to the families of the children.

Tripoli has demanded 10 million euros ($13.11 million) for each infected child’s family.

Bulgaria and its allies have rejected this, saying it would admit guilt, but have offered a fund for treatment at European hospitals for the children.

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