Libya HIV trial 'travesty'

PARIS - The evidence against six foreign medics accused in Libya of deliberately injecting more than 400 children with the HI virus is worthless, the British science journal Nature said yesterday.

PARIS - The evidence against six foreign medics accused in Libya of deliberately injecting more than 400 children with the HI virus is worthless, the British science journal Nature said yesterday.

Nature said it had acquired a copy of a 2003 document written by five Libyan physicians that is the cornerstone of the case against the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor.

The journal asked leading experts to assess it.

All agreed that its accusations were unsupported by fact and riddled with suppositions.

Robin Weiss, an HIV-Aids virologist at University College London, said: "There are no grounds for suspicion of deliberate infection by any staff, and strong evidence of hospital- acquired infection before the arrival and after the departure of the foreign health workers.

"If the accused are found guilty, it will be a travesty of justice," Weiss said.

The experts were also critical that the Libyan court had thrown out a report written by Luc Montagnier, who co-discovered the HI virus, and by Vittorio Colizzi, a university Aids researcher in Rome.

That report said the infections began in 1997, before the medics had arrived in Libya, and were caused accidentally by reused and unsterilised needles at the Benghazi Hospital.

The evidence for this is that many of the children were also infected with hepatitis B and C and two nurses at the hospital were infected with the same Aids strain as the children.

There is a swelling international outcry about the case, which resumes in a retrial next Tuesday.

The six could be sentenced to death if found guilty.

A group of US, Canadian and European experts, including Robert Gallo - the other discoverer of the HI virus - said confessions signed by two of the accused were made under torture.

They blasted the court for excluding independent expert testimony and called on their governments to pressure Libya to release the six.

The defendants are accused of infecting 426 children with the HI virus. Fifty-two of them have died. - Sapa-AFP

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