Bulgarian and European Union officials have agreed with Libya to set up an international fund to offer financial assistance to the families of AIDS-infected children in the Libyan city of Benghazi, Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry said Friday. The move was part of international efforts to secure the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death by a Libyan court for allegedly intentionally infecting some 400 children with HIV as part of an experiment. An appeals hearing in the case was scheduled for Dec. 25.
Bulgarian and other European officials have accused Libyan authorities of concocting the charges against the Bulgarians to cover up poor hygiene practices they say caused the infections. Europe and the United States have put mounting pressure on Libya to free the medics, and the issue has become an obstacle to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's efforts to improve ties with the West.
The fund agreement was struck in Tripoli on Thursday at a meeting of British, U.S., Bulgarian and Libyan government officials, as well as officials from the European Commission and the Gadhafi Foundation, a Foreign Ministry statement said. "The fund will seek, collect and distribute financial and material assistance for the Benghazi families," the statement said. The fund will be a non-governmental agency run by a board of directors, which will include representatives of the Gadhafi Foundation, the European Commission, and a Bulgarian non-governmental agency for promoting ties with Libya.
"This is part of the international efforts for finding a mutually acceptable solution for the situation that followed the tragic spread of AIDS in Benghazi," the Foreign Ministry said. Libyan officials have proposed that Bulgaria pay compensation to the families of the HIV victims to spare the medics' death penalty. Bulgaria rejected the offer because it would imply their guilt, reports the AP. N.U.