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Tests positively ID girl's parents

by NICHOLAS PAPHITIS Associated Press on October 26, 2013 10:25 AM

NIKOLAEVO, Bulgaria — The mystery is solved — but the future of the young girl known only as Maria is still uncertain.

DNA tests have confirmed that a Bulgarian Roma couple living in an impoverished village with their nine other children are the biological parents of the girl found in Greece with another Roma couple, authorities said Friday.

Genetic profiles of Sasha Ruseva, 35, and her husband, Atanas, 37, matched that of Maria, Bulgarian Interior Ministry official Svetlozar Lazarov said Friday.

By late Friday, the couple had not returned to their home that was surrounded by local and international reporters after the news was announced, and police said their whereabouts were unknown to them.

Three of the couple’s youngest children were taken to a shelter for temporary care, said Diana Kaneva, director of social services for the central Stara Zagora region.

Ruseva had said she gave birth to a baby girl four years ago in Greece while working there as an olive picker but gave the child away because she was too poor to care for her. She since has had two more children after Maria.

Maria has been in a charity’s care since authorities raided a settlement of Roma, also known as Gypsies, in Greece last week and found she was not related to the Greek Roma couple she was living with.

Her discovery triggered a global search for her parents, fears of possible child trafficking and interest from authorities dealing with missing children cases in Poland, France, the United States and elsewhere.

Human rights groups also have raised concerns that the news coverage about Maria and the actions taken by authorities were fueling racist sentiment against the European Union’s Gypsy minority, who number around 6 million.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office and Greek authorities were “seeking clarification on whether the mother agreed to sell the child,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

It wasn’t clear if Maria had been told who her real parents are. The Greek charity Smile of the Child, which has been looking after her, would not comment on the case.

Social services director Kaneva, after visiting the Ruseva home, said the child would likely be returned to Bulgaria for adoption.

“Maria will first be brought to a family crisis center, and after they (authorities) will seek for suitable foster family,” she said.

The Rusevs and their other children live in a dilapidated, mud-floored house outside the remote Bulgarian town of Nikolaevo, 175 miles east of the capital, Sofia.

The Roma quarter in the town houses some 2,000 people. Most are jobless, living in extreme poverty, trying to stay warm in shabby houses. Children played Friday in mud-covered streets as pigs, cats and hens ambled by.

Greek officials, fearing that Maria’s 2009 birth record contained false information, have ordered a nationwide check of all Greek birth records in the last six years to ferret out welfare fraud or other irregularities.

The Greek Roma couple, now in pre-trial detention, have been charged with allegedly abducting Maria and committing document fraud. They told authorities they had received Maria after an informal adoption and their lawyer said Friday they planned to seek legal custody of the girl.

Under Greek law, child abduction charges can include cases where a minor is voluntarily given away by his or her parents.

“We are very, very happy with this outcome, because we have proved what we said from the outset. The adoption, as it happened, was not of a legal nature but it was not abduction,” the Greek couple's lawyer, Costas Katsavos, told The Associated Press.

Paphitis reported from Athens, Greece. Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, Macedonia; Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece; and AP Television staff in Farsala, central Greece contributed.

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