EU, US urge Libya to transfer medics in AIDS case

18th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2007 (AFP) - The United States joined European powers Tuesday in urging Libya to send home six foreign medics whose death sentences for infecting children with HIV were commuted to life in prison.

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2007 (AFP) - The United States joined European powers Tuesday in urging Libya to send home six foreign medics whose death sentences for infecting children with HIV were commuted to life in prison.

"We urge the Libyan government to now find a way to allow the medics to return home," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said after Libya's highest judicial body commuted the death penalty for the Bulgarian citizens.

The six -- five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who has been granted Bulgarian citizenship -- could serve out their sentences in Bulgaria, as it has an extradition treaty with Libya.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin said the Libyan decision was "a big step in the right direction" but called for the prisoners to be sent to Bulgaria.

"For us the case will be over when our compatriots return to Bulgaria," Kalfin told journalists.

It was not immediately clear if the six would be sent there.

The European Commission said in a statement that the council's decision was a "relief" but called for them to be transferred to the European Union "as soon as possible." Bulgaria became an EU member in January.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was pleased with the decision, his office said, shortly before announcing that he will travel to Libya in the next few days at the start of a tour of Africa.

Britain also welcomed the decision. Junior foreign minister Kim Howells said he looked forward to the medics' return to Bulgaria, "enabling the EU and Libya to put this behind them, and develop a closer relationship."

The medics, who have been behind bars since 1999, were convicted of deliberately injecting 438 children in a Benghazi hospital with HIV-tainted blood.

Fifty-six children have since died and the number of victims has allegedly risen to about 460 after several mothers were infected.

Nurses Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo and Kristiana Valcheva and doctor Ashraf Juma Hajuj have always pleaded their innocence.

They say confessions were extracted under torture and foreign experts have blamed poor hygiene at the hospital for the AIDS outbreak in Libya's second city of Benghazi on the Mediterranean coast.

The decision by Libya's Supreme Judicial Council came after the children's families dropped their call for the death penalty following a compensation deal worth millions of dollars.

Global human rights group Amnesty International welcomed the decision but said it was "overdue and insufficient" and called for the medics' release.

"The Libyan authorities must ensure that legal safeguards intended to protect suspects from prolonged detention without charge and torture are implemented and that all accused receive fair trials," it added in a statement.

The European Commission added that it would now "study the ruling and its implications with the Libyan authorities and others involved. But we do hope that this tragic and long-running case can be brought to a speedy solution."

"This decision rules out the worst, the death penalty, and opens the way for triggering a prisoner transfer treaty we have with Libya," the Bulgarian minister added.

"Tomorrow morning we will start working on securing the transfer."

The nurses' families remained on tenterhooks after the council's decision.

"I feel some relief as the death penalty no longer hangs over their heads," doctor Zdravko Georgiev, husband of nurse Kristiana Valcheva, told national radio from Tripoli.

"But at the same time this decision prolongs the agony ... I have no idea when we will be able to come back to Bulgaria."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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