Libya slams pardons for HIV medics

Libya accused Bulgaria on Thursday of violating an agreement between the two countries when it pardoned six medical workers convicted of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.

Libya’s formal protest came a day after the HIV victims’ families condemned Bulgaria’s “recklessness” and called on Tripoli to cut ties with Sofia, deport all Bulgarian nationals and for the medics to be re-arrested by Interpol.

After more than eight years in jail, the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor who recently took Bulgarian citizenship were freed on Tuesday under a cooperation accord between Tripoli and the European Union.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov pardoned them upon their arrival in Sofia. The European Union newcomer and its allies in Brussels and Washington say the medics are innocent and point to evidence the epidemic began before they started working in Libya in 1998.

“The pardon granted to the medics by the Bulgarian authorities is a clear violation of the agreement reached on the July 23,” said an official in Tripoli, who wished not to be named.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said it received a formal protest note on Wednesday in which Libya said it had not complied with a 1984 extradition treaty.

Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said the Foreign Ministry would reply to Tripoli later on Thursday, explaining Bulgaria had not breached the agreement.

“It is understandable that Libya is reacting under existing pressure from the families of the infected children ... Bulgaria’s decision [to pardon the medics] is motivated and fair,” state news agency BTA quoted Stanishev as saying.

Legally pardoned

Jailed since 1999, the six were twice condemned to death until last week, when Libya commuted the sentences to life in prison after the 460 HIV victims’ families were paid $1-million each in a settlement financed by an international fund.

A diplomatic source told Reuters that Libya had intended for the medics to serve their remaining sentences after their transfer and referred to an article in the prisoner-exchange agreement to that effect.

But Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, said the pardon was legal.

“There is also an article that says once prisoners are transferred, they are treated under the host country’s legislation.
The pardon has been legally done. There are no legal problems,” Velchev told Reuters.

Officials have said Bulgaria was in a hurry to pardon the medics at the airport because it wanted to avoid having them in a Bulgarian prison even for a day. The medics have always said they were innocent and they were tortured to confess.

But 56 of the children have died and emotions are still strong in the city of Benghazi, where the outbreak occurred.

Relatives of the children have said the infections were part of a Western attempt to undermine Muslims and Libya.—Reuters

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