Libya formally asked to transfer medics

Bulgaria on Thursday officially requested the transfer from Libya of six medical workers whose death sentences for infecting children with HIV have been commuted to life imprisonment.Foreign ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev confirmed that the formal demand had been sent to Tripoli.

Sofia is seeking the extradition of the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor — recently granted Bulgarian nationality — under a prisoner exchange agreement it signed with Tripoli in 1984.

Libya’s highest judicial body commuted their original death sentences on Tuesday after a multimillion-dollar compensation deal was hammered out with victims’ families.

The expectation was that the agreement would witness their rapid transfer to Bulgaria, but there are still concerns that their release might be delayed.

“You must understand that things are very delicate right now and I can’t go into details,” EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who has been closely involved in the negotiations, told reporters.

Ferrero-Waldner, who was in Paris for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, stressed that the release of the six had yet to be secured.

“We need to keep working on it and that is what we’re doing,” she said.

After their meeting, it was announced that Sarkozy would make a trip to Libya next week.

Nurses Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo and Kristiana Valcheva, and the doctor, Ashraf Juma Hajuj, were twice sentenced to death — in May 2004 and in December 2006 — for infecting 438 children at a hospital in Benghazi with HIV-tainted blood.

The six have always denied any wrongdoing, claiming their confessions were extracted under torture, while foreign experts have blamed poor hygiene at the hospital for the infections.

“The case is not over yet,” Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev warned Wednesday as the anxious wait for the medics’ transfer began in earnest.

In downtown Sofia, people left messages of support for the six under a huge banner bearing the word “Freedom!”.

The Bulgarian press, meanwhile, criticised Libya for holding up the transfer.

“Classic blackmail,” the left-wing Sega daily commented Thursday.

“The Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi set the rules of the game and even kept his chances to prolong it as long as he wants from now on,” it added.

A compensation fund for the infected children was set up in 2005 by Tripoli and Sofia under EU auspices.

The Qadhafi Foundation run by Libyan leader’s son Seif Al Islam, which has been involved in mediating the crisis, said the compensation amounted to about $1 million per child.

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