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Nearly 400 children who Libyan authorities say were intentionally infected with the virus that causes AIDS are now being treated in European hospitals, French and Italian officials said Thursday.
French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said he hoped the move would improve relations with Libya as a court there deliberates on the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor charged with infecting the children in the city of Benghazi in the 1990s. The prosecution of the case has drawn international criticism.
The nurses and doctor, held in Libya since 1999, were sentenced to death in 2004, but Libya's supreme court ordered a retrial after international protests that the proceedings had been unfair. The defendants denied the charges, saying they had been tortured to extract confessions.
Europe, the United States, and human rights groups accused Libya of concocting the charges to cover up poor hygiene conditions at its hospitals, which many blame for the infections.
Mattei expressed hope that treating the children in European hospitals ''can contribute to creating among the families and Libyan public opinion a climate more favorable to a solution in the case...that conforms to the expectations of the international community.''
Some 150 of the children are in French hospitals in Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier, and Strasbourg, and Libya is paying for the treatment, he said. More than 100 are being treated at Rome hospitals, and 60 have been at the Meyer pediatric hospital in Florence since September, said Maria Jose Caldes, an official at the hospital in Florence. It was not immediately clear where the others were being treated.
Caldes said the children in Florence are ''in quite good condition'' and are being treated with antiretroviral drugs, a cocktail of medicines that helps manage immunity-debilitating effects in AIDS patients.
The children are accompanied by their parents and three Libyan doctors and are staying in Florence and nearby cities. Italian doctors believe most will be able to return to Libya by mid December.
''The children have to go home, they have to go to school, [and] they have to lead their lives,'' said Caldes. ''Only the more serious cases will stay here longer.'' (AP)