Bulgaria urges Libya to return Bulgarian nurses

Bulgaria urged Libya on Thursday to ensure quick retrial for five Bulgarian nurses accused of intentionally infecting Libyan children with HIV. Libya's supreme court on Dec. 25 overturned the death sentences of the nurses and ordered a retrial. A hearing has not yet been scheduled. The nurses have been held in Libya since 1999.

"It's been too long ... this is unacceptable," Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin told reporters. "We are in contact with Libyan authorities hoping that the new trial be as quick as possible." Libya accused the foreign medical workers of deliberately infecting the children at a Benghazi hospital as part of an experiment in the 1990s. Europe, the United States and human rights groups accused Libya of concocting the charges to cover up poor hygiene conditions at its hospitals they say caused the infections. The six nurses said they were tortured to extract confessions.

Shortly before the December ruling by Libya's supreme court, U.S., European, Bulgarian and Libyan negotiators reached a deal to set up a non-government fund to help families of the 426 children infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About 50 of the children have died, according to a lawyer for the families. Libyan officials proposed that Bulgaria pay compensation to the families in order to secure the nurses' release. Bulgaria rejected the suggestion, saying such payments would imply they were guilty.

Kalfin said Bulgaria's part in the fund for victims' families would not include monetary payments. "If we participate ... it will be by offering doctors or hospital treatment for the infected children," he said. No Bulgarian officials would participate, he said, only representatives from a non-governmental organization promoting ties with Libya, reports the AP. N.U.

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