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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 16:58 GMT
Orphans row rocks Romania-EU ties

By Nick Thorpe
BBC South East Europe reporter

The continued adoption of Romanian children abroad, despite a ban on the practice, is once again threatening Romania's relations with the EU.

The EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has formally asked the Romanian Government for more information on the practice.

The Romanian Government denies violating its own adoptions moratorium.

The dispute follows the publication of data confirming nearly 900 children found foster parents abroad since 2001.

Some 900 Romanian orphans were sent abroad since a 2001 ban

Baroness Emma Nicholson, the European Parliament rapporteur for Romania, has proposed that the EU suspend the country's membership negotiations until it does more to tackle corruption and improve the rights of children.

An amendment to that affect was introduced by a Dutch deputy, Arie Oostlander, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The threat has provoked a flurry of diplomatic activity in Bucharest.

The Romanian government argues that the new adoptions were already being processed by domestic courts when the ban came into affect in 2001, and could not be stopped.

The treatment of children in Romania in particular, and the country's many state orphanages, has long been a source of national humiliation.

But one apparent answer, foreign adoptions, rapidly turned into a scandal of its own in the 1990s, with allegations of children being auctioned to the highest bidder.

Romania hopes to join the EU in 2007, and is involved in continuous negotiations with Brussels to complete all chapters of the accession agreement.

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