The Bulgarian government has rejected a proposal by Libyan foreign minister Abdelrahman Shalgham to negotiate a settlement between Bulgaria and the families of about 400 children that Libya claims were intentionally infected with HIV in the late 1990s by five Bulgarian health workers, Agence France-Presse reports. A lengthy trial ended in May with a five-judge panel in a Libyan court finding the five health workers guilty of infecting the children and ordering their deaths by firing squad. The health workers also were ordered to pay $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Shalgham had suggested that the Bulgarian government compensate the families of the children or that the European Union, of which Bulgaria is a member, treat the HIV-positive children in Europe or build a special hospital for them in Benghazi, Libya, where they were allegedly infected. The Bulgarian foreign ministry called Shalgham's proposal "unacceptable" and said the country--and the European Union--will not negotiate any settlement since they believe the health workers are innocent of all charges.
Libyan officials claim the health workers deliberately infected the children at a Benghazi hospital as part of an experiment to develop an HIV vaccine. Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gadhafi had once claimed the infections were part of an Israeli and CIA plot to destabilize the country, but he later backed away from that statement. HIV experts, including virus codiscoverer Luc Montagnier, testified at the trial that the infections were not caused by the health workers but were more likely due to unclean conditions and unsafe medical practices at the hospital. Montagnier testified that the infections also occurred before the Bulgarian health workers arrived in Libya. The health workers say they have been tortured since being detained in 1999, including being raped and receiving electric shocks.