The mayor of a Paris suburb has been accused of racism following his refusal to allow a Roma baby to be buried in the municipal cemetery.

Christian Leclerc, the mayor of Champlan, has rejected the accusation, explaining his refusal on the grounds that the cemetery has "few available plots."

"Priority is given to those who pay their local taxes," he was quoted by Le Parisien daily as saying.

Critics, however, believe his decision to refuse the nearly three-month-old girl a final resting place was motivated by anti-Roma sentiment.

"It's racism, xenophobia, and stigmatisation," Loic Gandais, president of an association helping Roma families in the region, said.

Gandais accused Leclerc of hiding behind the fact that the baby, identified only as Maria Francesca, was pronounced dead in another town.

Maria Francesca was admitted to hospital on December 26 in the nearby town of Corbeil-Essonnes, where she was declared dead from sudden infant death syndrome.

The child's parents are Romanian natives who have lived in France for at least eight years, according to supporters.

Their two other children are attending school in Champlan.

Makeshift settlements

Faced with Leclerc's refusal, the parents have arranged for their daughter to be laid to rest on Monday in the town of Wissous, a few kilometres from Champlan.

Most of France's roughly 20,000 Roma live in makeshift settlements with little or no access to basic amenities.

Successive governments have drawn fire for demolishing numerous camps and evicting families with children, although some in France have supported a tough approach.

Roma families in Champlan live on two plots of land without water or electricity.

Though many towns around Paris struggle to integrate Roma migrants, some have been moved by the plight of Maria Francesca's parents.

Explaining his offer to host the burial the conservative mayor of Wissous, Richard Trinquier, told AFP it was "a question of humanity".

"The pain of a mother who carried a child for nine months, and lost her after two and a half months must not be worsened."

Source: Agencies