ROME / MINSK -- The Belarusian government accused an Italian couple on Wednesday of kidnapping a Belarussian orphan girl they host each year for holidays, whom they suspect has been sexually abused back in her orphanage.
The couple sent the 10-year-old into a secret hiding place nearly two weeks ago, before she was due to fly back to Belarus.
Acting in defiance of a Genoa court order for the girl to be sent back, the couple then informed local police, saying they would rather go to jail than return her to the orphanage.
The orphanage in Belarus dismissed the charges as "a fantasy invented by an Italian family that wants to have a child."
The government of Belarus complained formally to Italy about what it termed the "deliberate abduction." The foreign ministry asked Rome's ambassador for her "immediate and unconditional return."
The girl, identified by the Italians as Maria to protect her identity and in Belarus as "Vika," short for Viktoria, has spent the summer with Alessandro Giusto and Chiara Bornacin on the Riviera near Genoa for the past four years.
In a program for children suffering long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster 20 years ago, about 60,000 Belarus children have treatment and holidays abroad.