Bulgarians face death penalty in Libya over AIDS charges

SOFIA, Feb 27, 2000 -- (AFP) Bulgaria is increasingly concerned about the fate of six medical workers who face the death penalty in Libya on charges of injecting nearly 400 children with the HIV virus.

Their trial is set to resume in Libya on Monday.

Sofia says Libyan authorities have accused the six of deliberately trying to "weaken the security of the state" over the 1998 incident, from which 23 children have already died.

The Bulgarians -- five nurses jailed since 1998 and an anesthetist -- went on trial on February 7 over an outbreak of AIDS at a children's hospital in Benghazi, northern Libya, according to Sofia's foreign ministry.

They are on trial along with nine Arabs, including eight Libyans.

The Bulgarian government announced on Thursday that it was sending its chief prosecutor and justice minister to Libya to clarify the accusations. They are awaiting visas.

President Petar Stoyanov spoke to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi late Wednesday to express his conviction that "Bulgarian citizens did not commit these serious crimes" and urged Kadhafi to "use his influence" to postpone the trial so that Bulgarian lawyers can take part.

The government's two envoys hope to meet their Libyan counterparts and the prosecutor in the trial, in the hope of delaying it.

Foreign Minister Nadejda Mikhailova detailed the main charges against the Bulgarians to parliament on Friday.

They were: "causing an epidemic by injecting substances contaminated with AIDS into 393 children, 23 of whom have already died; premeditated murder; and "activities which led to an indiscriminate massacre, with the aim of weakening the security of the state," she said.

Apart from the principal accusations, for which they could be condemned to death, the six also face charges of "violating the rules of Islamic life style," said Mikhailova.

Bulgaria officially asked Russia to help in resolving the issue on Thursday.

The background to the case is unclear. According to the weekly "168 tchassa," the trial is aimed at the regional health minister in Benghazi, Saad Amrouni, a foe of Kadhafi.

Amrouni is reported to have imported contaminated blood products on the cheap, the paper said, adding that one of the charged Bulgarian nurses was intimately involved with Amrouni.

The nurses told investigators that they had been ordered by the hospital's director to re-use syringes because of lack of equipment, the weekly added.

Other Bulgarian press reports said the anesthetist was the husband of one of the nurses. Employed by a South Korean company in the Libyan desert, he was arrested after visiting his wife, they said.

Since the collapse of communism in 1989, Libya has been Bulgaria's main trading partner among developing countries. Some 4000 Bulgarians including 1,500 doctors still work there.

According to one opposition newspaper, Duma, Libya is seeking the cancellation of 290 million dollars of communist-era debt, in return for cooperation on the trial.

Finance Minister Mouravei Radev said such a demand was unacceptable. "In a civilized country there is no link between a trial and foreign debt," he said.

Original article