Belarus says Italian couple that tried to keep orphan welcome to try to adopt her

The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus Belarus' education minister said Monday that an Italian couple that had tried to keep a 10-year-old Belarusian orphan was welcome to apply to adopt her.

The girl has been sent back to the ex-Soviet nation last week after a juvenile court ruled to repatriate her. The girl spent the summer in Italy with Alessandro and Chiara Giusto, who refused to return the girl when her holiday was over and hid her for two weeks saying she had been abused at her orphanage in Belarus.

Nearly 60,000 Belarusian children go abroad every year for health-related rest or treatment or vacations; 25,000 go to Italy, according to official statistics.

"We don't exclude that the family could adopt Vika, and if they apply to us we will consider their appeal in accordance with law," Belarusian Education Minister Alexander Radkov told reporters.

Giovanni Ricco, a lawyer representing the Giustos, said the girl claimed she was severely abused at the orphanage and a medical examination in Italy confirmed the abuse. Belarusian officials angrily rejected the allegations.

"We are glad that Vika has returned to Belarus. She's feeling fine," Radkov said.

He said that the girl would return to her orphanage after a rehabilitation course.

Last week, Belarus issued a formal protest to Italian authorities, who had been trying to find the girl for days.

Italian police found her on Wednesday in Valle D'Aosta, a tiny region in northwestern Italy, where she was staying with the Giusto couple's mothers.