THE future looked so promising for little Margaretha Lee. Her first birthday loomed and her bright young life was beginning to take shape, carved out by the brave parents who risked everything to flee China via Hongkong and gain political asylum in The Netherlands. But today Margaretha is an orphan; her parents murdered in a brutal crime police believe was linked to the murky world of Chinese illegal immigration. After surviving three days alone in a house with the bullet-ridden bodies of her mother and father, she is at the centre of a bizarre international wrangle as bureaucrats debate whether she should be raised by foster parents in Holland or be sent back toChina or Hongkong. Should she be allowed to stay in the country where she was born? Should she be sent back to her elderly grandfather in Hongkong? Or her aunt in Guangzhou? The aunt wants to take care of her, but only if she is allowed into The Netherlands. One Dutch official claimed this was ''blackmail''. If the aunt is not allowed to live there, she wants the child to remain in Holland and be adopted by another young couple, preferably Chinese. The grandfather, who lives in a tiny Hongkong flat, says he cannot look after Margaretha and wants her to grow up where she is. While her fate is being decided, the little girl is being cared for by an elderly Dutch couple, Henk and Margaretha Post, who were close to her father and mother, Lee Yun-fai and Wong Wai-tjen, murdered in mysterious circumstances in February. Lee was shot in the head three times and Wong twice at their home in the sleepy town of Buren. The Posts had helped the new arrivals with the long legal process of gaining status as political refugees. They even acted as best man and woman, in Dutch tradition, at Lee and Wong's wedding, and the little girl was named after Margaretha. They doted on the child from the day she was born. Now they have written to the Sunday Morning Post, saying if the child is sent back to China they would let her go ''with a bleeding heart''. The Posts would love to be able to keep her, but being in their late 60s, parents of four and grandparents of six, consider themselves too old. ''We do love her very much, but we are together about 140 years old and it would not be wise to keep the child. ''She should be in a young family. She is doing very well. She is happy and has got four teeth,'' Mr Post said. ''If our Margaretha should go back to China, we'll let her go with a bleeding heart. We would like to accompany her on that trip, because we are anxious to know where our grand-daughter is going 'to be landed', but unfortunately we cannot afford such a trip.'' Mr Post said a Chinese couple who were friends and expecting a baby in July were very keen to adopt her. ''Perhaps that would be best. They are a young couple, with residency in Holland, but they are Chinese, so Margaretha gets a Dutch and a Chinese education.'' He said it was difficult not knowing when Margaretha might be taken away from them. ''Nobody tells us anything,'' he said. ''We don't know what is going on. We have had Margaretha for over three months now, but the authorities have told us it is not official. ''We have decided to start planning for her birthday in June because we believe she will still be with us then.'' He said he would always hold fond memories of Lee and Wong. ''We were very shocked by their sudden and unexpected death. We had known them for about 31/2 years and felt about them as we do about our own children. ''We don't know why they were murdered. There is some speculation, but no evidence whatsoever. In our minds, they were two kids who were very dear to us, and that is the end of it.'' In The Netherlands, and all over Europe, images of the orphaned baby captured many hearts as newspapers detailed her plight, and calls came flooding in from couples wanting to adopt her. Margaretha's future is in the hands of the Child Care and Protection Board of the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Under normal circumstances, according to a social worker in the department, it is always preferable for the child to be placed with relatives. But it is a difficult case. Margaretha's aunt in Guangzhou, Ms Wong Yin-chen, is insisting she wants to move to The Netherlands to bring up Margaretha, and if she is not allowed, she would rather the baby stayed in Europe. But a Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was unlikely she would get permission to move to The Netherlands. ''It's a sort of blackmail''. Ms Wong denied trying to use the child as a pawn to gain a European passport. She said she would make the tough decision to leave the baby halfway across the world because she believed Margaretha would have a brighter future where she was now. ''Ideally we want to settle down and live in The Netherlands in order to look after the baby. She has no relatives there and we are quite worried nobody is able to look after her. ''If we are not allowed to go, we still want to visit the baby on a tourist visa and pay tribute to my late sister and brother-in-law at their graves. ''We'll find somebody suitable to be the baby's guardian, preferably a Chinese family. ''It would be better for her to grow up and live there. She was born there and she would have a brighter future staying there. ''Not that we don't want to take her back. In fact, we are doing business in Guangzhou and there's no problem with raising her here. ''We ought to think about the baby's future and not just her short term need of being taken care of by the closest relative.'' She said she knew nothing of any links between her sister's death and the smuggling of Chinese immigrants into Europe. Margaretha's grandfather in Hongkong, Mr Wong Ho, backed his daughter's efforts to join Margaretha in The Netherlands. ''My grand-daughter should stay there for the good of her future, though I'd rather find a Chinese couple to be the foster parents,'' he said from his flat in a temporary housing estate in Heng Fa Chuen. He said he was very anxious to see his grand-daughter, whom he has only seen glimpses of in photographs, and said he was planning a trip to The Netherlands with Yin-chen and his son-in-law. Mr Wong said Wai-tjen was a good daughter who often phoned him. ''She always told me she lived well and I should not worry about her.'' The last time Mr Wong spoke to Wai-tjen was on January 24. ''It was the second day of the Chinese New Year. She just phoned to say Kung Hei Fat Choi. I told her that I wanted to visit her after the New Year but she suggested I postpone it to May or June when the weather became warmer. ''Now it's too late. My heart was broken when I learned about my Wai-tjen's death. I should have seen her earlier.'' The tragic story began on February 5, when a neighbour called the police after spotting bullet holes in a downstairs window of their home in Buren. They found Margaretha, then nine months old, dehydrated but alive in a cot in a downstairs room. Her parents had been dead in an upstairs room for three days. The town was shocked by the murder of the quiet, shy couple. To the locals, it was an apparently motiveless killing. But Dutch police believe Lee was involved in the smuggling of illegal immigrants from mainland China into The Netherlands, and that he and his young wife were killed in a row over money. A spokesman for Dutch police said the case was still under investigation. Police have a description of the possible killer from a neighbour, and have received anonymous tip-offs, but a radio programme in which police appealed for information drew a blank. He said they believed the Chinese community had been scared into silence. ''There is a lot of fear surrounding the case. People are afraid to talk. That's why it is so difficult. ''We are still looking for the people who did it, but now we have a description and a few tip-offs, the possibility of finding them is much greater.'' It had all started so promisingly for Margaretha's parents. Her father fled mainland China in 1989 because he was in danger after harbouring friends involved in the democracy movement. After two long years apart, his fiancee joined him, with high hopes they could live the free life they dreamed of. They were given temporary permission to stay in The Netherlands while they applied for political asylum, and were successful last October when they were issued a three-year permit, renewable if the political situation in China did not change drastically during that time. When Wong (she kept her maiden name) became pregnant and Margaretha was born last June, the family could not have been happier. The future looked perfect, he had a job in a restaurant and she was happy to stay at home looking after the baby. That all changed on that fateful day in February. Now almost one year old, Margaretha is blissfully unaware of her tragic past and uncertain future, which still hangs in the balance. A social worker dealing with the case in the Child Care and Protection Board said: ''It is not clear when or by whom the decision on the future of this child will be made. In the meantime we just have to wait . . .''