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Col Mu'amar al-Qadhafi

Update No: 036 - (02/11/06)

The Final Obstacle
It is difficult to avoid cliché; however, the trial of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor, which resumed in Tripoli on October 31, is proving itself as the final obstacle to full rehabilitation. The prosecutor for the trial, which has been postponed several times, insists on demanding a death sentence, despite the flimsy evidence - and alleged confessions from the defendants obtained under torture. In 2005 Libya's Supreme Court ordered re-trial, thus repealing the previous death sentences of the medics. The issue has attracted negative international attention since it began seven years ago, but never has it been criticized quite as much as in the past few weeks. About eight years ago more than 400 Libyan children contracted HIV at Benghazi's Al-Fatah Children's Hospital. Reports of international virologists said that the infection resulted from poor hygiene and that the infection in Benghazi began before the Bulgarians started work there. The impression Libya is giving is that it prefers to blame foreign workers, rather than concede there are problems in its medical system. In a letter published in the Oct. 24 online edition of the journal Science, a group of scientists and medical doctors accuse Libya of having deliberately excluded "expert testimony from independent scientists and prevent access to crucial pieces of evidence," in a case that demands just that for conclusive evidence. The letter was signed by Robert Gallo, who co-discovered HIV and developed the first test for the virus; Sunil Ahuja of the University of Texas Health Science Centre; and David Pauza of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland. 

Meanwhile, while there Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, the leader's son, hinted that the nurses in the Benghazi AIDS case were perhaps less to blame than problems at the Al-Fatah hospital itself earlier this year, the government has allowed Libyan Children to be treated in Italy and France. Almost 400 HIV-positive Libyan children have been transferred to hospitals in Rome and Florence in Italy and Montpellier, Paris, Strasbourg and Toulouse in France under contracts privately negotiated and paid for by the Libyan government. Almost half of the children are being treated in Rome, and 100 of these are at the Vatican-owned Ospedale Bambino Gesu. Dr. Guido Castelli Gattinara, a paediatrician assigned to care for them, believes that most of the children have not been adequately treated in Benghazi, despite an EU program which prompted training and equipment improvements at the hospital, also noting that some of the children sent to Italy showed additional infections such as tuberculosis and hepatitis. This confirms views expressed by an Italian HIV specialist who testified on behalf of the nurses on the first trial. Dr. Vittorio Colizzi said that the Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi showed a lack of hygiene, a lack of infection control and no system to protect patients from blood borne infections. 

Carrots and Sticks
As relations with the West progress, it is difficult to imagine that the death sentence demanded by the prosecutor in the case against the medics on trial in Tripoli will be applied. In October there has been tremendous pressure on the Libyan government to resolve the matter by releasing the six defendants. The Libyan government has essentially conceded that the criticism of the Benghazi medical facilities proffered by external experts and procedures was valid, having sent 400 HIV infected children to be treated in Europe. Moreover, on January 1st, 2007, Bulgaria is on course to become a full member of the EU and the Libyan government would most likely prefer to resolve this matter before it can start to jeopardize some aspects of its relationship with Europe. While, Europe is very interested in high quality Libyan oil and the new EPSA round of oil concessions will start on December 20, Libya needs to upgrade its infrastructure and its military equipment. Already, the French defence ministry has hinted that Col. Qadhafi's possible visit to France might be realized only on condition that the issue of the Bulgarian nurses is settled, France Press announced. One of the issues that Libya is expected to raise during such a visit is its interest in buying combat Rafal aircraft and Tiger helicopters. Indeed, should the visit occur, France and Libya might even discuss establishing military cooperation and Libya would then be able to start renovating some armament, something it has not been able to do since 1986, when an arms embargo was imposed until 2004. Libya is also believed to have discussed the retrofitting of 38 Mirage F1 jets bought by Libya more than 25 years ago and the installation of modern anti-ship Otomat missiles on patrol boats, made by MBDA, a joint venture created by defence firms EADS, BAe Dynamics and Alenia. French defence companies are also expected to participate at Libya's first arms trade fair, Lavex, in Tripoli on December 4-6.

Though not explicitly tied to the medics' trial, the release of the defendants would also accelerate another prospect for Libyan participation in international military cooperation. The United States has suggested including Libya in a North African counter insurgency network, where Libya would become an important element in the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The group now includes nine African states, including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The plan would feature increased intelligence exchange between Tripoli and Washington, while providing U.S. defence and security aid to Libya.
However, while there are worthwhile incentives for the Libyan leadership to secure the release of the medics and the medical evidence supports their innocence, it is the families of the HIV infected children that must be appeased. If the medics are innocent then someone else must take the blame for the hospital's negligence, and that someone is the government. The fact that HIV infections occurred in Benghazi suggests that there might well be violent protests. As noted in other updates, Benghazi has traditionally been one of the main bases for protests against the Qadhafi regime. Most recently, eleven people were killed in riots in front of the Italian consulate triggered by an Italian minister (Calderoli of the Berlusconi legislature) last February wearing a t-shirt featuring the controversial 'Danish caricatures' of the prophet Muhammad. The 'caricature' riots in February highlighted the regime's failure to reform the economy. Tripoli had no such riots. Families of the HIV victims protested the Libyan Supreme court's decision to re-try the medics' case in late 2005, while Col. Qadhafi had suggested that Bulgaria deal directly with the families to arrange suitable financial compensation. Bulgaria refused because to have paid compensation would have effectively served as an indication of guilt. Therefore, should the medics be acquitted, as is likely, there might be protests and riots in Benghazi, which has always been one of the strongest sources of opposition to Qadhafi's rule (as much for tribal as for political/economic reasons). Nevertheless, if the trial of the medics is the last remaining barrier for Libya's full inclusion in the 'international community', other developments indicate how far the country has come since December 2003 in normalizing international relations. On October 30, Libya received the first new Boeing aircraft in 30 years. Buraq airways of Libya bought six Boeing 737-800 last February. Buraq Air, Libya's first private airline was established in 2001. It currently owns six aircraft with seven more on lease, and operates services between the interior and the main coastal cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, allowing it to compete against the national carrier Libyan Arab Airlines. 

Oil & Gas 
Libya has slated Briga Company, Jouf Company, Petroluem Distribution Company and Oil Wells Drilling company for privatisation. Oil 'minister' Shukry Ghanem gave neither details about the values of the companies to be sold nor when the privatisation would take place and was not precise on which bodies were entitled to buy the shares. Libya is also increasing its presence in the LNG market and it expects to build two liquefied natural gas plants after 2010. Libya currently produces about 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas a year, exporting most to Italy (via pipeline) and Spain and exports about 8-10 bcm to Italy via the Greenstream pipeline and 1 bcm of LNG to Spain. Libya also announced that ExxonMobil Corp, BP Plc and Chevron Corp, are among 47 companies that qualified to bid in Libya's third auction of oil drilling rights, allowing holders to search for oil and gas in 14 offshore and onshore sites, covering a total area of 99,437sq km, almost the size of Cuba. Other bidders include ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum Corp, Marathon Oil Corp and Hess Corp.


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