SIRTE, Libya, (Reuters) – A deal to resolve the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death for deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV may be close, the hildren’s families said on Friday.
The remarks by the Association for the Families of the HIV-infected Children were the latest in a flurry of signals that a deal for the medics’ release, currently being discussed by European Union (EU) officials and the families, may be close.
The six foreign medics, who have been detained since 1999, 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. “We might reach an agreement on the Bulgarian nurses and the infected children before June 21,” Driss Lagha, chairman of the association, told Reuters. “In the event of reaching a settlement it will be presented to the High Judicial Council for approval and for the council to take the necessary measures regarding it,” he added.
The Council is a nine-member Libyan government-led group of experts chaired by the justice minister that has the power to amend or overturn decisions by the judiciary.
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.
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.
In Sofia, Bulgarian National Television aired an interview with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday in which he said he hoped the Bulgarian nurses would soon be freed.
Last month a charity run by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, said the medics’ case could be solved very soon following talks between the families’ representatives and the international community in Brussels on May 10. But the charity known as the Gaddafi Foundation also urged Bulgaria and the EU to recognise “the necessity of making more effort and serious consideration of the special requirements for solving this problem and arriving at a formula satisfactory to all the parties as soon as possible.”
Lagha, who is a father of one of the hundreds of Libyan child infected by HIV, is one of the Libyan negotiators trying to seek a settlement of the case.
Lagha said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who visited Libya for talks with Gaddafi on Tuesday, had also met the families’ representatives on his trip and he had urged them “to take further positive steps to reach a settlement”. “He (Blair) affirmed he will support the international effort to reach a settlement before the 21st of this month,” Lagha said.
Libyan officials have often mentioned this date as marking what they see as the effective end of Germany’s EU presidency.
In fact June 21 is the date of the first day of a two-day EU summit which will be chaired by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels. The German presidency actually ends on June 30.
In Sofia, Bulgarian deputy Foreign Minister Feim Chaushev told Reuters: “There are positive signals coming from Tripoli.” “The efforts for finding a solution to the case are in full swing … They are focused on reaching it as soon as possible.”