- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya is in talks with Bulgarian officials over a $5.3 billion fund for families of children infected with HIV in Libya.

One Libyan official said a deal had been done, but another said talks were continuing and Libya had yet to agree with Bulgaria on details of a payout.

“There is no agreement on the compensation yet. We got notice at our meeting with the Bulgarian side of the precise demands of the families of the sick children. The families want to get 10 million euros each,” said Salah Abdessalam, a senior official at the Gadhafi Charity Foundation, which is overseeing the talks with Bulgaria.

The charity is influential in Libya’s politics and diplomacy as it is chaired by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s son Saif al Islam.

“Our talks today were concluded without reaching any deal,” said Mr. Abdessalam, adding that the two sides would meet again in the Bulgarian capital Sofia this week in an attempt to agree on compensation terms.

He spoke after another Libyan official had suggested that a deal had already been reached.

“The two sides reached an accord to pay 10 million [euros] for each of the 426 HIV infected children and 20 mothers who are also contaminated with HIV,” Driss Lagha, chairman of the Association for the Families of the HIV-infected Children, told Reuters.

Mr. Lagha said officials from Libya and Bulgaria reached the agreement on payments for health care for the sick children at a meeting in Tripoli yesterday.

A deal would defuse a standoff over five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been convicted in Libya of giving the children HIV.

They were sentenced to death, but Libya’s supreme court quashed the sentences on Christmas Day.

The conviction of the medical staff has been seen in the West as a major hindrance to Libya’s efforts to end decades of diplomatic isolation.

Bulgaria has cited evidence that the nurses were tortured to force them to confess, and that the epidemic started in the Benghazi hospital before they began working there.

It has rejected any notion of formal compensation and called the planned fund a voluntary, rather than political or diplomatic, initiative.

“Our position has not changed. Bulgaria is not going to participate with financial contributions to this fund. We are not going to pay any compensation, because our medics are innocent,” Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev said yesterday.

The overturning of the death sentences last month sparked angry protests among the families of the children, around 50 of whom have died since the case began in 1999.

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