- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

NEW YORK — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed her Libyan counterpart yesterday to finalize compensation payments to U.S. victims of Libyan terrorist attacks, one of the last remaining disputes between the former enemy states, a senior U.S. official said.

Miss Rice also urged Foreign Minister Abdurahman Shalgam to release “on humanitarian grounds” five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of injecting Libyan children with the AIDS virus, the official said.

Their meeting, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly summit, was the first between Miss Rice and Mr. Shalgam since the United States and Libya established full diplomatic relations in May following a 25-year rupture.

U.S.-Libyan relations have warmed dramatically since the regime of Moammar Gadhafi renounced terrorism and abandoned efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction in late 2003.

A key to the rapprochement was Libyan acknowledgement of responsibility for two terrorist attacks that took U.S. lives: the 1986 bombing of the La Belle disco in Berlin, where two American servicemen were among the victims, and the 1988 destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270.

Libya agreed to pay $10 million compensation to the families of each of the Lockerbie victims, but has so far only paid out $8 million each.

While Tripoli also reached a compensation agreement for non-American victims of the La Belle bombing, a similar demand by the American victims is still in federal courts.

During yesterday’s meeting with Mr. Shalgam, Miss Rice “emphasized the need to resolve the outstanding issues related to Pan Am 103 and the La Belle claims,” the senior official said on the condition of anonymity.

She also “urged a rapid resolution on humanitarian grounds” of the case involving the six foreign medical workers, the official said.

The six have been jailed since 1999 and were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for “knowingly” injecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV-tainted blood in a Benghazi hospital. Fifty of the children have died.

The Libyan Supreme Court quashed the conviction, but a retrial is currently under way in Tripoli and prosecutors have again demanded the death penalty.

Foreign health specialists have testified in defense of the six that the HIV infections were caused by poor hygiene at the hospital long before the arrival of the foreign personnel.

The U.S. State Department has called repeatedly for the release of the six, as well as progress on a number of human rights issues in Libya.

Since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which were cut in 1981, a number of senior State Department diplomats have visited Tripoli.

But Miss Rice herself has yet to seal the renewal of ties with a visit of her own.

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