NIKOLAEVO, Bulgaria (AFP) - Bulgarian authorities on Thursday questioned a Roma couple thought to be the biological parents of Maria, a mysterious blonde girl whose discovery in a Greek Roma camp has made global headlines.
Local media identified the woman thought to be her mother as Ms Sasha Ruseva, 35, from the small town of Nikolaevo in central Bulgaria, who was reportedly forced to leave her child out of poverty.
The woman confirmed during police questioning that she had given birth to a baby girl while working in Greece several years ago and left the child there with her employers at about seven months old, the interior ministry said in a statement.
She claimed she recognised the Greek Roma couple she left her child with on television and that Maria resembled her other children, who reportedly number between eight and 10.
Bulgarian prosecutors said earlier they were investigating a woman with the initials SR for allegedly selling her child in Greece in 2009 and that the case was related to the discovery of Maria.
Ms Ruseva however denied that any money had changed hands.
"We gave the child for free. I did not take any money. I had nothing to feed her," the thin, dark-complexioned Ruseva told reporters outside the police station, clutching another small, freckled and pale-skinned girl of two or three with dyed red hair.
"There is a resemblance, but how should I know if she is mine or not?" she shrugged, adding that she would take Maria back if DNA tests confirmed that she was indeed her mother.
According to reports in Bulgaria, five of Ms Ruseva and her husband's other children are blonde and closely resemble the girl found last week.
Greek news portal Zougla said Ms Ruseva had given birth to a girl on Jan 31, 2009, in the town of Lamia in central Greece, about 150km from the camp where Maria was discovered last Wednesday.
However, dental checks on Maria indicate an age of five or six, according to the Greek charity entrusted with her care, which has been inundated by hundreds of calls from parents of missing children around the world.
Lamia Mayor George Kotronias told Zougla that Ms Ruseva unsuccessfully tried to register her daughter by falsely claiming she was unmarried, and that her application had been rejected.
Police in Greece, who have launched a global appeal via Interpol to find Maria's parents, declined to comment.
The Greek Roma couple looking after Maria, a 39-year-old man and his 40-year-old wife, were detained and accused of abducting her.
They denied the accusation, telling investigators that the child's Bulgarian Roma mother gave her to them because she could not afford to look after her.
Shortly after details of the case emerged, two blonde children aged seven and two were removed from their Roma families in Ireland before being given back after DNA tests, sparking alarm about racial profiling.
The head of the Roma Rights Centre, Mr Dezideriu Gergely, told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that the cases had encouraged stereotypes about Roma communities.
Many Roma people in Europe do not have dark skin, have blue or green eyes, or are of mixed race, he said.
"Creating the perception that ethnicity can be linked to criminality is discriminatory. The effects of this not only fuel racist stereotypes but are potentially disastrous," rights group Amnesty International said.
Up to 12 million Roma are estimated to live in Europe, according to the Council of Europe, many in extreme poverty with little or no access to jobs, education or health care.