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Top Belgian investigator quits over missing children case

September 2, 1997

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The head of Belgium’s judicial police has resigned after criticism of his role in a search for four missing girls, who were later found killed.

A parliamentary inquiry accused Christian de Vroom of fumbling the investigation into the disappearance of the girls, whose bodies were found buried on property belonging to a convicted child rapist in August 1996.

The inquiry found that detectives failed to share information with rival agencies and ignored clues pointing to Marc Dutroux, who is now awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping, sexually abusing and killing the girls.

De Vroom is the first high-ranking official forced from his job in the case, which prompted mass demonstrations in Belgium. Until late last week, De Vroom refused to resign, even after Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck publicly asked him to go.

Belgian news media quoted officials as saying Tuesday that De Vroom had agreed to accept another position ``more in keeping with his abilities.″

Meanwhile, pressure mounted on former Justice Minister Melchior Wathelet, who released Dutroux from prison in 1992 _ halfway through a 13-year term for sex attacks on children.

A German deputy in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said he would submit a motion to the assembly urging Belgium to remove Wathelet as judge at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

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