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DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladesh's army has rejected as "vile" newspaper reports that described the rescue of a textile worker trapped for 17 days in a collapsed garment factory as a hoax.
A pro-opposition Bangladeshi daily first reported the story last week, branding the rescue of seamstress Reshma as fake.
It quoted a male colleague as saying she escaped the building with him on the day it collapsed in April, killing more than 1,100 people.
A story was also published in the British tabloid the Sunday Mirror, quoting the same worker who has since gone into hiding.
"We spent two days in hospital but then she vanished. The next time I saw her was on TV 17 days later. They said it was a miracle. But it was a fake," the Mirror quoted the colleague as saying.
The army, which oversaw the rescue and recovery operation, slammed the reports as "misleading, imprudent and fictitious".
"It is a vile attempt to raise questions on the dedication, honesty and humanity of the rescue workers," the army said in a statement late on Monday.
It said Reshma was rescued in the presence of numerous television crews and other media.
The army said such newspaper reports risked traumatising her further.
"Publication of this misleading information can even risk her mental health. She is still traumatised," it said.
Reshma became a national heroine after she was rescued from the nine-storey Rana Plaza building that collapsed on April 24, trapping more than 3,000 garment factory workers and killing 1,129.
The 18-year-old, who spent nearly a month in hospital, initially in intensive care, has told media she survived on rainwater and biscuits.
Reshma, who has since been hired by the luxury Westin Hotel in Dhaka as a "public area" ambassador, could not be contacted for comment.
The hotel told AFP that permission from the army was needed to talk to her.
Her brother Zahidul Islam also denied the newspaper claims, saying "we never doubted it. It was not a hoax".
"For 17 days after the building collapsed, we searched for her at every hospital including the military hospital and at the morgues. We found her only after her miraculous rescue," he told AFP.
Enam Hospital, where most of the injured were first brought, also said Reshma was not among those hospitalised there, as claimed by her male colleague.
"We treated 1,618 people rescued from Rana Plaza. Of the total, at least 800 were admitted at the hospital and the rest were given first aid," hospital spokesman Zahidur Rahman told AFP.
"Among the 800 who were admitted, there was no patient called Reshma," he said.