Belarussian orphan found in Italy

An orphaned girl from Belarus, at the centre of a diplomatic tussle, has been tracked down and taken into protective custody by police in Italy.

The 10-year-old girl was found in an Alpine village near the Swiss border after being sent into hiding by her temporary Italian foster parents.

The family had refused to send the girl back to her orphanage in Minsk, saying she was being sexually abused there.

The Belarussian orphanage has said the allegations are fantasy.

The girl was sent to Italy as part of a programme to help children suffering from long-term consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Psychological tests

The orphan - whom the Italian media have named "Maria" to protect her identity - should have returned to Belarus earlier this month.

The couple, who have provided the girl with a temporary home for the past few summers, said a change in Maria's behaviour had made them suspect she might have been abused.

Psychological tests confirmed their fears, but they added that they had decided to act after Maria tried to drown herself in the sea.

The girl's discovery came after the nationwide publication of pictures of two women - reported to be the couple's mothers - who are alleged to have been hiding her.

The Belarussian authorities had warned that the furore could have implications for the hopes of hundreds of Italians who want to adopt Belarussian orphans.