SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A Roma woman in remote town in central Bulgaria has undergone DNA testing as authorities investigate if she is the mother of a suspected abduction victim in neighboring Greece known as "Maria" whose case has triggered a global search for her real parents.
Sasha Ruseva, 35, had been tested for a match and served with preliminary charges of child selling, but was not detained, Bulgarian authorities said Thursday.
Ruseva appeared on Bulgarian television after being questioned at a police station in the town of Nikolaevo, 280 kilometers (175 miles) east of the capital, Sofia, and admitted she once left a baby behind in Greece while working there, but was not sure if Maria was her daughter.
"I don't know if it's her. How would I know that? I didn't take any money. I just didn't have enough money to feed her," Ruseva said speaking on TV, which showed pictures of her and her family outside her mud-floored village home outside the town.
Several of the children seen at the village were barefoot or looked poorly cared for.
"I intended to go back and take my child home, but meanwhile I gave birth to two more kids, so I was not able to go back," Ruseva said.
Bulgarian Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetlozar Lazarov said Ruseva had told police she had seen televised pictures of a Greek Roma couple who had looked after Maria and recognized them as the same people with whom she left her child.
A blond-haired and fair-skinned girl aged 5 or 6, Maria, was discovered last week near Farsala in central Greece during a police raid on a Gypsy settlement. DNA tests on the Roma couple revealed they weren't her parents and the two were charged with abduction and document fraud.
They insist they were looking after Maria with their own five children after an informally-arranged adoption.
The girl was placed into the care of a children's charity and her DNA details were provided to Interpol which has so far failed to match her to any missing children declared in its records, from Poland to the U.S.
But the global interest has also raised concerns that news coverage of Maria and actions taken by authorities in the high-profile case are fueling racist sentiment against the Gypsy minority, who number around 6 million in the European Union.
"The long-standing problem of negative media reporting on minorities has vehemently re-emerged with the cases of the children found in Roma families ... propagating age-old myths portraying Roma as child-abductors," the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks said in a statement.
In the central Romanian town of Sibiu, Dorin Cioaba, an influential Gypsy community leader widely known as the king of the Roma, said the Greek couple's story sounded plausible.
"Roma families love their children very much. They would give their lives for their children," Cioaba told Associated Press Television News.
"What I think (happened) is that young woman who abandoned the child gave her to this family knowing that if she leaves her on the street, she will end up in a state orphanage or even taken by someone, sold and trafficked ... Maybe this girl did not grow up in a the best environment. But I don't believe what I have heard that this little girl was traumatized."
Olimpiu Gheorhgiu reported from Sibiu, Romania. Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, and Elena Becatoros, Nicholas Paphitis and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.