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17 Jul 2007 12:27
Libya is finalising a deal that would pay the families of 426 children with HIV millions of dollars and pave the way for the release of six foreign medics sentenced to death for infecting them, a source said on Tuesday.
The source, close to the delicate negotiations under way in Libya, said an agreement could be announced on Tuesday evening.
“They are in the latest stage to complete details of implementing the deal. That stage will be reached in the next few hours, perhaps at about 3pm [local time] when an announcement would be made to make public that they have done a deal,” he said.
The medical workers—five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor—were sentenced to death in December after being convicted of intentionally starting an HIV epidemic at a children’s hospital in the city of Benghazi.
Libya’s Supreme Court last week upheld the death sentences, placing the medics’ fate in the hands of the High Judicial Council, which is controlled by the government and has the power to commute sentences or issue pardons.
The council has put off until Tuesday a decision on the fate of the medics.
It will only rule if the children’s families accept the deal.
Under the agreement, the families of at least 426 children infected with the virus that causes Aids will receive more than $400-million in funding, the source told Reuters.
“The families would make a statement today [Tuesday] after the completion of the deal to authorise the High Judicial Council to take the appropriate decision,” said the source, who did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
“When they [announce] the completion of the deal, that means the families had already received the money in their hands,” the source said.
Othman Bizanti, a leading lawyer for the nurses, said he had great hope the council would decide to free the medics.
“The council was due to meet on Tuesday morning ... The body is part of the administration, which has no precise timing for its meetings,” he said.
In jail since 1999, the six medics say they are innocent and that they were tortured to confess. Foreign HIV experts say the infections started before the workers arrived at the hospital and are more likely a result of poor hygiene.
Behind-the-scenes talks between the European Union, which Bulgaria joined in January, and families of the children have been taking place for weeks and both sides have suggested a deal was close.
Bulgaria and its allies in the EU and the United States say Libya is using the medics as scapegoats to deflect criticism from its dilapidated healthcare sector.
They have also suggested that not freeing the nurses would carry a diplomatic cost for Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi, who after scrapping a prohibited weapons programme in 2003, is trying to emerge from more than three decades of diplomatic isolation.
Libyan officials said the body would only agree to release the nurses if a settlement is reached in talks with the families on “blood money”—payments for which the families could grant mercy—and funding for the children’s medical care.—Reuters
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