January 6, 2004
On Sunday, Libyan experts rejected a French specialist's testimony that blamed poor hygiene for an AIDS outbreak in a Libyan hospital, Bulgarian radio reported. Five Bulgarian nurses and two doctors -- one Bulgarian and one Palestinian -- face the death penalty if found guilty of infecting 426 children with HIV in a hospital in the northern Libyan town of Benghazi. Twenty-three of the children have already died.
State prosecutors maintain the accused, arrested in 1998, infected the children with tainted blood products, but Luc Montagnier -- the French doctor who first isolated HIV -- testified that the outbreak began before the accused arrived at the hospital, and was probably caused by unsterilized needles and other unsanitary equipment.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passi said the latest development in the trial, "does not favor the accused," but that his government will fight "to ensure that they receive a fair trial." Passi met with Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi to discuss the trial on Dec. 20, 2003.
The trial began in February 2000 and is due to resume on Jan. 12. All the accused have pleaded innocent in court. The Libyan police said two nurses and the Palestinian doctor admitted guilt, but the defendants told the court they confessed under duress after mistreatment by the Libyan police. According to the radio report, Libyan authorities have rejected their explanation.