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Verdict in AIDS Trial Appeal Awaited in Libya


Bulgarian and Libyan authorities are awaiting the verdict of a retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of contaminating hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS. Europe and the United States will also be watching closely December 19 when an appeals court delivers its verdict on the original trial. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Tripoli.

In less than a month, a Libyan appeals court will hand down its sentence on a trial that has been criticized by the international community and human rights groups.

Since 1999, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been in jail, accused by Libyan authorities of deliberately infecting 426 Libyan children with AIDS.

A court in Benghazi sentenced the six to death by firing squad in May 2004. Libya's supreme court ordered a retrial following an appeal.

Libya's Minister for European Affairs, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, said some solution would be found to the matter, but that would have to wait until after the verdict. His words were spoken in the presence of the Bulgarian interior minister Rumen Petkov.

"We are waiting for the verdict," stated al-Obeidi. "Secondly we are having a working group: Bulgaria, Libya, United States, United Kingdom and European Commission. After the verdict we are going to sit together and see ... if there will be an appeal [or] if there will not be an appeal. Politically we can work at it together. We are not working on our own, we are working as a group."

A 2003 inquiry by an international specialist at the request of Libyan authorities concluded that the hospital infections were the result of poor hygiene. But a second study by three Libyan experts found that given the significant number of infected patients, they were deliberately infected with the virus.

Bulgarian officials would not discuss the upcoming verdict. Al-Obeidi said much still needs to be done for the families of these children because they are suffering. "In addition to waiting for the verdict, we are working with the group to help the families of the affected children, because their tragedy will continue even after the verdict," said al-Obeidi. "And for that we established an international fund to help the families financially and to help them in treatment abroad and to develop the Benghazi center for their treatment."

The international fund was established by Britain, Bulgaria, the European Union, and the United States. Ffity-two of the children who were infected with AIDS have died. Others are being treated in Italy and France.