AIDS Case Deal May Forgive Libyan Debt

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 14, 2007; 8:58 PM

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Several eastern European countries would forgive Libyan debt dating back to the Cold War under a proposal to compensate families whose children were allegedly infected with the AIDS virus by five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, a victims' advocate said Saturday.

The six foreign medics have been sentenced to death in the case, and Libyan officials have said a settlement could pave the way for their release.

Jailed since 1999, the six deny having infected more than 400 children and say their confessions were extracted under torture. Experts and outside scientific reports have said the children were contaminated as a result of unhygienic conditions at a hospital in the northeastern coastal city of Benghazi. Fifty of the infected children died.

Libya's Supreme Court upheld the death sentences for the medics in an appeal ruling on Wednesday. But that decision could still be overturned by country's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judiciary Council, which is set to review the case on Monday. The council could approve or reject the convictions or set lighter sentences.

Idriss Lagha, head of the Association for the Families of HIV-Infected Children, told The Associated Press that a settlement was being finalized involving the transfer of money to a fund through the remission of debt to Bulgaria and several other eastern European countries.

Seif al Islam, the son of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, told a French newspaper published on Saturday that $400 million in compensation would be paid to the families.

"The indemnities are financed by international contributions in the form of debt remission," the newspaper Le Figaro quoted him as saying. "The concerned countries are Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic."

An agreement on the case has "not yet been reached" with the European Union, said Seif al Islam, who heads a powerful Libyan association that has worked to resolve the deadlock.

Government officials from Bulgaria and other nations reportedly involved in the deal have all denied they were sending cash to the families.

Le Figaro, without citing sources, reported that each family would get $1 million.

Companies in the four countries are all owed money from Libya largely dating back to the communist era. Bulgaria says Libya owes it $290 million, and the Czech news agency CTK put the Libyan debt to Prague at about $300 million in 2002.

The spokeswoman for Slovakia's ruling party said Saturday that Prime Minister Robert Fico had discussed with Libyan officials in February the possibility of using some of the country's debt to compensate the families.

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