SOFIA - The Bulgarian Roma mother of Maria, a young blonde girl whose fate made headlines around the world when she was found in a Greek Roma camp, tearfully denied Sunday that she had sold her daughter.
"I have not sold her! I have not... I gave her, I made a mistake. But I haven't taken any money," Ms Sasha Ruseva told private television station TV7 in her first public appearance since DNA tests proved on Friday that she was Maria's biological mother.
"I want Maria back! I am her mother, how could I not want her. I do not care what they say. I want Maria back with me," she pleaded.
The four-year-old girl, with her blonde hair and green eyes, was wrongfully thought to be a Western European child abducted by a Roma couple when she was found this month living near the Greek town of Farsala, and became a poster child for dozens of parents with missing children.
Greek and Bulgarian police however tracked down her real parents to a Roma ghetto in the central Bulgarian town of Nikolaevo on Thursday and are now investigating the mother for allegedly selling the child in Greece in 2009.
Ms Ruseva, 35, recounted her desperately poor life with her mentally-ill husand and nine other children, but said she had never forced them to beg, and voiced her fear at the possibility she could be thrown in jail.
Maria is currently in the care of Athens-based charity Smile of the Child, which said the girl was made to dance and beg by her Greek "family", who remain in detention for allegedly abducting her.
Their lawyer Marietta Palavra said Saturday the couple were planning to appeal their detention and also wanted the child back "as they are the ones who have raised her and they love her" even if they were not her biological parents.