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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Belgian child pair were strangled
Missing Belgian girls Nathalie Mahy (left) and Stacy Lemmens
The two girls disappeared late at night during a street party
Two little Belgian girls who went missing at a street party were both strangled and the elder of them raped, prosecutors have confirmed.

Public prosecutor Anne Bourguignont briefed reporters in Liege following examinations on the bodies of the two girls, who were step-sisters.

The remains of Stacy Lemmens, seven, and Nathalie Mahy, 10, were found only after three weeks, near a railway line.

A suspect with paedophile convictions is in custody, but denies involvement.

Abdellah Ait Oud, a 38-year-old Moroccan, has been charged with kidnapping.

He was seen close to the step-sisters on 9 June, the day they disappeared, in the city in eastern Belgium.

He turned himself in to police two weeks ago after his details were published in the Belgian media.

The case, which has shocked Belgium, has rekindled memories of the notorious Marc Dutroux paedophile crimes.

Nation in shock

Both girls appear to have been strangled around the date they went missing, Ms Bourguignont told reporters.

Investigators search the site in Liege where the bodies were found

"We can say that Stacy Lemmens was hauled manually by both arms," she said.

"She presents traces on the neck indicating she was strangled. Nathalie Mahy also presents traces indicating she strangled. She also shows traces of rape."

The girls' parents were informed of the results earlier on Thursday.

Police discovered Stacy's body under a manhole cover in scrubland beside railway lines at 1100 (0900 GMT) on Wednesday.

A short while later, Nathalie's body was discovered some 20 metres away.

Nathalie is due to be buried on Saturday in a private ceremony in Liege's Cointe district, and Stacy's funeral is due to take place on Monday in the city's Saint-Leonard district.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said earlier in a televised address that all Belgians felt "repugnance, sadness and impotence".

"We cannot understand what drives certain people," he added.

Echoes of Dutroux

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.

Shocked residents of Saint Leonard, 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.

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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