Row over Belarus girl escalates

The Belarussian authorities have asked the international police agency Interpol to help find a girl at the centre of a diplomatic row with Italy.

The 10-year-old girl should have returned to Belarus earlier this month after a holiday in Italy.

But the couple she was staying with on the Italian Riviera near Genoa have sent her into hiding instead.

They said the girl was being sexually abused at her orphanage. The orphanage has said the allegations are fantasy.

The Belarussian government has demanded that Italy provide proof that the girl is alive and well.

She had travelled to Italy as part of a programme to help children suffering the long-term consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The Belarussian authorities say no more children will be sent until the girl is returned.

Psychological tests

The couple she stayed with for her summer holiday have defied a court order for her to go back to Belarus.

It was not the first time the girl - whom the Italian media have named "Maria" to protect her identity - had spent her holidays with the couple.

This year, though, they say her behaviour made them suspect that she might have been sexually abused, and they add that psychological tests confirmed their fears.

The foster parents say they would rather go to prison than see her forced to return, and that they only decided to act after Maria had tried to drown herself in the sea.

The Belarussian ambassador in Rome says his country's sovereignty demands the girl's return as ordered by an Italian court.

He also warned that the furore could hit the hopes of hundreds of Italians who want to adopt Belarussian orphans.