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Greek police find mystery child during raid on Roma camp

Greek police find mystery child during raid on Roma camp
Greek police on Friday launched a search for the biological parents of this girl found living with a Roma couple who offered conflicting stories of how she came to be in their care. DNA testing showed the child, thought to be about 4 years old, is no relation to others at the camp that was raided Wednesday in a crackdown on illegal drugs and firearms. (Associated Press)

Greek police announced Friday that they were seeking the biological parents of a blond, blue-eyed girl about 4 years old who was found during a raid two days earlier on a Roma camp in central Greece, news media reported from Athens.

The child, who was called Maria, was spotted by a female prosecutor who accompanied police on the raid and became suspicious of the girl's origins because she looked nothing like the couple who initially claimed to be her parents, the ekathimerini news site reported.

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DNA testing of the child and the couple caring for her showed they weren't related, the news website said.

A 40-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man have been arrested on suspicion of child abduction, and authorities were looking into the possibility that the suspects were involved in child smuggling. The couple had registration documents for 14 children but only four were found at the camp, ekathimerini said.

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At least some of the documents appeared to be falsified because they indicated the woman arrested had given birth six times within 10 months.

Police chief Vassilis Halatsis of Thessalia Province, the jurisdiction where the camp was raided Wednesday in the central town of Farsala, told the BBC that the couple gave conflicting accounts of how they came to have the child in their custody. The couple said she was handed to them by strangers, that she was found under a blanket, and that she had a foreign father, accounting for her Northern European appearance.

Marietta Palavra, a lawyer for the detained Roma couple, was quoted by the Associated Press in Athens as saying the girl was taken as an act of kindness through an intermediary when she was just a few days old.

Palavra observed that Roma and other Greeks have been known to make multiple registrations of their children to get more welfare benefits.

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"Just because [the suspect] had forged documents, it doesn't make her a kidnapper," Palavra told the AP. "The couple loved the girl as if she were their own."

The child was being cared for by a Greek charity, A Child's Smile, and reported to be in relatively good health, though "confused and shocked" by the sudden change in her environment, the charity's director, Kostas Yaaopoulos, told the BBC.

The camp reportedly was raided as part of a crackdown on suspected illegal activity in the community. Authorities were searching for drugs and weapons, according to news  reports.

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat

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