Sex-ring search focuses on cellar

Brussels (Reuter) - Police searching for the bodies of missing girls in Belgium's child sex scandal found "hot spots" in two houses owned by the chief suspect, Marc Dutroux, a convicted paedophile rapist. And a detective arrested on Sunday in connection with the investigations was formally charged yesterday.

At its first meeting since the summer break, the Belgian cabinet agreed on tougher controls on the early release from jail of sex offenders. Dutroux, an unemployed electrician, was freed 10 years early in 1992 after serving three years of a 13-year sentence for raping five children.

A gendarmerie spokesman, Jean-Marie Boudin, said in the Charleroi suburb of Jumet that investigators using British-made radar-imaging equipment had found two "hot spots" in one house and one in another. "Now we are using only the British apparatus in the cellar of the Jumet house. Up to now this apparatus has indicated two places of interest in the cellar." The equipment is triggered by cavities underground.

Last night exhausted police suspended their searches until Monday. South of Charleroi, in Neufchateau, the nerve-centre of the investigations, magistrates confirmed charges of vehicle theft, insurance fraud and forgery against chief police detective Georges Zicot. Dutroux has been linked to organised vehicle theft and police are investigating the child sex and theft ring together.

Belgian police are going to Bratislava and Prague to search for missing Belgian children. Dutroux has been named in Bratislava as a suspect in the murder of a young Slovak woman. Interpol said he was also believed to have planned the kidnapping of at least one other Slovak woman. A spokesman for the Belgian gendarmerie's special disappearances squad said they were also likely to contact colleagues in Austria investigating what seemed to be a "child-for-hire" network across central Europe.