updated 7/25/2007 5:19:25 PM ET 2007-07-25T21:19:25

The families of the children infected with the AIDS virus in a Libyan hospital voiced outrage Wednesday at the pardon and release of six medics who returned to Bulgaria a day earlier.

“We deeply condemn and are deeply disappointed at the absurdity and disrespect shown by the Bulgarian presidential pardon,” the Libyan Association for the Families of HIV-Infected Children said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

The five nurses and one doctor were flown to Bulgaria on Tuesday and immediately pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.

Their release was secured during a three-day trip to Libya by French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy and the European Union’s commissioner for foreign affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Libya on Wednesday and met with Moammar Gadhafi, the leader of the long-isolated country. Sarkozy promised to boost relations with Libya as a reward for the detainees’ release.

In their meetings, he was expected to press for closer economic ties with Libya, which has important oil reserves. They also were expected to discuss cooperation in fighting terrorism and illegal immigration, said Sarkozy spokesman David Martinon.

Nuclear cooperation would not be on the table, he added.

Libyans call for arrests
The medics had twice been sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly infecting some 426 children in the coastal city of Benghazi in the late 1990s — charges that were widely denounced abroad as false. Before their release, Libya had commuted their sentences to life in prison.

The Libyan families’ statement called on the Interpol police force to arrest the medics again in Bulgaria, “so that they can spend the rest of their sentences in prison.”

The medics have long voiced their innocence and said their confessions in Libyan jails were extracted under torture.

Libya’s decision to allow the six to return to Bulgaria — nominally to serve out the rest of their life sentences — came after months of pressure from the United States and the EU, who made clear to Gadhafi that resolving the issue was key to normalizing relations with the international community, a key Libyan goal.

The families “demanded cutting relations with Bulgaria and kicking all Bulgarians workers out of Libya,” added the statement.

They said the Bulgarian pardon illustrated Western contempt for Arabs.

“Western disregard of Muslims’ blood is an indisputable fact,” the statement said.

'We cannot forget'
Until now, Bulgaria has vehemently rejected the idea of paying compensation to the families, or writing off some of Libya’s debt, saying such a move would be seen as an admission of the guilt of the medics.

But Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said Wednesday that Bulgaria may write off Libya’s $54 million foreign debt as part of humanitarian aid measures.

European countries have promised millions of dollars to a fund for HIV-infected children in Libya. Last week, the victims families received $1 million, according to a victims’ advocate, after which they agreed to drop their demand for the execution of the six medics.

Three medics, meanwhile, said at a news conference in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia that they would testify against the Libyan officers who had tortured them.

“We can forgive, but we cannot forget what has happened to us,” said Nasya Nenova, one of the nurses.

Ready to testify
Nenova, Kristiana Valcheva and Ashraf al Hazouz said they were ready to testify against 11 Libyan police officers in a Bulgarian probe of the alleged torture.

If convicted, the accused will face up to 10 years in prison.

The Libyans will be investigated for allegedly using coercion, torture and threats to extract the false confessions from the medics, prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov said.

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