Nearly a dozen global cases probed on mystery child: Greek charity

ATHENS (AFP) - Greek police are investigating nearly a dozen missing child cases from at least four countries that could match a young blonde girl whose discovery in a Roma camp has sparked worldwide interest, a charity caring for the child said on Tuesday.

"There are nearly a dozen disappearance cases from countries such as the US, Sweden, Poland and France that are being more closely investigated," Mr Panagiotis Pardalis, a spokesman from the Smile of the Child charity, told AFP.

The girl, known as Maria, was found by police last week in a Roma camp near the town of Farsala in central Greece.

Initially thought to be four years old, but later confirmed from dental checks to be five or six, she was kept by a Roma couple who were placed in pre-trial detention on Monday for allegedly abducting her.

The couple, a 39-year-old man and his 40-year-old wife, deny the charge and claim that she was voluntarily handed over by her Bulgarian Roma mother who could not care for her.

The girl's discovery has struck a powerful chord with parents of missing children around the world, including those of Briton Madeleine McCann, who vanished in Portugal in May 2007.

The Smile of the Child has received more than 8,000 calls from around the world on the case since this weekend, Mr Pardalis said.

"Some are calls to give information, and we forward to the police whatever we feel can be helpful to the case. Other calls are from people who want to express sympathy," he said.

"This case has highlighted the problem and the need to deal with it. There are (parents of missing children) who have been living in agony for years. We tend to forget these cases exist," he said.