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Survivors Take Stand at Dutroux Trial

Nearly two months into the trial of accused child abductor and murderer Marc Dutroux, two of his surviving victims -- now young women -- are scheduled to testify this week.

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Sabine Dardenne arriving at the courthouse on Monday.

Europeans glued to the trial of Belgium's most infamous criminal anxiously awaited the testimony of two of his victims, the first time they will speak before a jury.

Sabine Dardenne, 20, testified for about one hour on Monday and 22-year-old Laetitia Delhez is expected to take the stand on Tuesday.

"He always said that I had a character like a pig," Dardenne said at the end of her testimony, turning directly to the defendant. "Why didn't he kill me then?"

Dutroux (photo), who has admitted raping Dardenne, responded: "I never thought about killing her." His defense lawyer declined to ask Dardenne questions. "We have the utmost respect for you and, even though this comes much to late, the greatest compassion," Xavier Magnee told the witness.

Judge Stephane Goux had previously asked Dardenne questions about her abduction on May 28, 1996, but spared the young woman from having to recount her ordeal in captivity as letter she had written during her incarceration in Dutroux's cellar had already been read during the trial. But Dardenne indirectly confirmed that Dutroux had raped her, adding that she had to clean the house when not locked in the cellar. "I was his little maid," she said.

Testimony crucial for outcome of trial

The two women's evidence is seen as vital to an ongoing debate in Belgium over whether the defendant acted on his own in committing the crimes he is accused of, or was part of a pedophilia network.

Laetitia Delhez, Opfer von Marc Dutroux, mit Anwalt

Laetitia Delhez, left, arrives with her lawyer, Georges-Henri Beauthier, at the Palace of Justice in Arlon, Belgium, Monday April 19, 2004.

Dardenne and Delhez (photo) were 12 and 14 years old respectively in the summer of 1996 when they were abducted. Dardenne was in captivity for 80 days, while Delhez was held for eight days before being freed by police.

Dutroux, now 47 years old, is charged altogether with kidnapping and rape of six girls during the mid-1990s, and with the deaths of four of them. Two girls starved in a cellar, while two others were buried alive.

Dutroux denies having killed any of the children, and admits only the abduction of four of the girls.

On the eve of the trial, Dutroux sparked further controversy by sending a letter to Belgian media saying he was only a small part of a criminal network that had links to Belgian law enforcement.

But to the frustration of Belgians, who have reacted to the scandal with mass outpourings of outrage and horror, the trial -- involving numerous witnesses often with conflicting testimony -- hasn't clarified the situation.

Marc Dutroux, Pädophilie Prozess

Marc Dutroux

Dutroux (photo) is being tried along with three accomplices: his now-estranged wife Michelle Martin, a drug-addicted drifter Michel Lelievre, and a petty crook with a long history of involvement in the sex and drug trade, Michel Nihoul. Each of the defendants claim the others are guilty.

Seeking justice

In her one television interview, given in Belgium, Dardenne said she hopes her testimony will help bring about justice. She also said she hopes to show Dutroux that he didn't destroy her, and that despite her ordeal she is able to lead a normal life.

Despite the insistence of the victims' parents and of Dutroux's lawyers that Dutroux was acting as part of a larger pedophilia ring, the trial has yet to offer up any hard proof. To date there is no evidence that Nihoul was part of the kidnappings, although many believe he represents the link between Dutroux and the alleged child pornography ring.

However, there has been an increasing spate of evidence showing disastrous omissions on the part of the investigators.

The search methods of police and the judicial system has been a key issue in the trial; this has lead to further widespread conspiracy theories that there people from the highest political circles have tried to obstruct progress in prosecuting the case.

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