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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Belgian police find girls' bodies
Missing Belgian girls Nathalie Mahy (left) and Stacy Lemmens
The two girls disappeared almost three weeks ago
The bodies of two young stepsisters who disappeared in the eastern city of Liege three weeks ago have been found, Belgian police have confirmed.

Chief prosecutor Cedric Visart de Bocarme said Stacy Lemmens, seven, and Nathalie Mahy, 10, were murdered.

The girls disappeared during a street party. Their bodies were found 400 metres from where they were last seen.

The case has revived Belgians' memories of Marc Dutroux's paedophile killings, which included two girls from Liege.

"The news of this discovery awakens in all of our hearts a feeling of aversion, of sadness and impotence as well," Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said in a televised address.

"We cannot understand what drives certain people,"

Mr Verhofstadt sent his condolences to the family and said priority would be given to finding the culprits.

It's absurd that it took them more than two weeks to find them when they were so close by
Andre Deaelcominette,
Liege resident

A suspect turned himself in to police two weeks ago. He has been charged with kidnapping the girls, but denies any involvement in their disappearance.

Police discovered the body of Stacy Lemmens under a manhole cover in scrubland beside railway lines at 1100 (0900 GMT).

A short while later, Nathalie Mahy's body was discovered some 20 metres from her stepsister.

Post-mortem examinations are due to be carried out to determine the girls' causes of death, although Liege prosecutor Anne Bourguinont said: "This can't be considered to be an accident."

Residents' questions

"The hunt for the culprit or culprits is now a priority and everything possible will be done to shed light on the case as soon as possible," Mr Visart de Bocarme told reporters.

Investigators search the site in Liege where the bodies were found
The girls' bodies were found near to where they disappeared

He said "everything was done to find them alive", and they had refused to give up hope of a happy outcome.

"Unfortunately these hopes are today ruined by the discovery of the deceased, should I say murdered, children," he said.

But shocked residents of Liege's Saint Leonard neighbourhood, where the girls disappeared, are asking why it took the police so long to find the bodies.

"It's absurd that it took them more than two weeks to find them when they were so close by," Andre Deaelcominette told the French news agency, AFP.

The two girls were last spotted in the early hours of the morning near a cafe where their mother and father were attending a street party.

Magistrates on Tuesday granted police more time to question the man charged with their kidnapping, Abdellah Ait Oud, a convicted paedophile whose girlfriend works at the cafe.

Belgium was deeply shocked by the Marc Dutroux paedophile case, in which two girls from Liege disappeared in June 1995.

Their bodies were not found until a year later - in Dutroux's garden.

In 2004 Dutroux was found guilty of leading a gang that kidnapped and raped six girls in the mid-1990s, leading to the deaths of four of them.

See police conducting their search for the children

Profile: Marc Dutroux
17 Jun 04 |  Europe
Belgium's trial of shame
17 Jun 04 |  Europe

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