Compromise to save Libya AIDS children, death row medics

Libya and the European Union are expected to unveil a diplomatic compromise Friday to treat hundreds of HIV-infected children and save six foreign medics accused of infecting them from execution.Libya’s Supreme Court on Wednesday said its decision in an appeal against the death penalty against the six — five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor — would be given on July 11.

But an official of the Qadhafi Foundation, which has been closely involved with negotations between the EU and the children’s families, has given Friday as the likely date of a negotiated solution.

The Qadhafi Foundation is a charity headed by Seif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi.

A Libyan source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an announcement would be made simultaneously in Tripoli and Brussels where an EU summit takes place this Friday.

The date was agreed during a visit to Libya on June 10 and 11 of European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the official said.

Tripoli also sent a senior diplomat recently to Brussels, London and Paris and appears to have succeeded in winning guarantees for “continuity of payments into a compensation fund for the families” — seen as a vital part of any compromise with the parents who demanded compensation.

The nurses — Kristiana Valcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo, and Snezhana Dimitrova — and the doctor, Ashraf Juma Hajuj, were arrested in 1999 accused of infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a hospital in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi.

Fifty-six of the children have since died.

The medics have denied the charges but were sentenced to death in 2004. Foreign health experts have said the epidemic in Libya’s second city was probably the result of poor hygiene.

The EU has expressed its opposition to any deal it sees as blackmail or compensation to the families.

But it has supported “a special assistance fund” which will serve, among other elements, to ensure free medical treatment of the sick.

“For us, the essential thing is to guarantee treatment of the children,” a spokesman for the families’ association, Ramadan Al Fituri told AFP.

“We are for a solution which guarantees the rights of the children and of their families, but we do not want at the same time to compromise our country’s interests, particularly in its relations with the EU,” added the 40-year-old engineer, marked by the death of his younger sister in 2001.

The case has sparked mounting criticism from the EU and the United States and hindered Libya’s efforts at rapprochment with the West after Qadhafi’s regime renounced efforts to develop mass destruction weapons in December 2003.

US President George W. Bush appealed for the release of the medics last week during a visit to Bulgaria.

In a sign of a probable impending resolution of the case, Sofia has granted Bulgarian nationality to the Palestinian doctor which would enable him to serve any remaining prison time in that country along with the Bulgarian nurses.

The medics have been in prison already for eight years, the past three on death row.

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