Fresh sex abuse claims rock UN mission in C.Africa

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) –


The UN's troubled mission in Central African Republic announced seven new claims of sex abuse by peacekeepers Thursday, the latest in a barrage of allegations of troops assaulting the civilians they are supposed to protect.

The fresh allegations, which include five involving minors, come just days after claims surfaced of French and EU troops in the restive country sexually abusing children, sometimes in return for food or money.

CAR is struggling to recover from sectarian violence that exploded after a 2013 coup, pitting mainly Muslim rebels against Christian militias, but international peacekeeping efforts have been undermined by the string of sex abuse claims.

A statement from MINUSCA, the UN's stabilisation mission in CAR, said it had "identified seven new possible victims of sexual exploitation and abuse in Bambari," a city in the country's central region.

MINUSCA said the new cases were brought to its attention by researchers from Human Rights Watch. A UN probe "found sufficient initial evidence that five of the victims were minors and had been sexually abused and that one adult had been sexually exploited", the statement said.

The soldiers involved are from the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the mission said, adding that the two governments have been asked to launch investigations.

In a response to the sex claims, the United Nations said Thursday that it would repatriate 120 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo.

- Soldiers sent home -

The "repatriation will occur after an investigation is carried out; in the meantime the soldiers will be confined to barracks," MINUSCA said, noting the claims date from September to December last year.

The UN has already asked the Democratic Republic of Congo to send home its peacekeepers from CAR after they failed to meet UN standards.

Only last week, the UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein reported new cases involving French and EU troops said to date back to 2014 but to have only come to light in recent weeks.

Two girls said they were raped by soldiers from the EU's EUFOR mission, while two others said they were paid to have sexual relations with other EUFOR soldiers, the UN said on Monday.

The four were aged between 14 and 16 at the time, and three of the girls told UN investigators that they believed their abusers were from Georgia.

Some 150 Georgian soldiers were deployed with the EUFOR contingent, which at its peak counted some 700 soldiers sent to Bangui to help restore order.

Georgia vowed to "do everything possible to ensure that those individuals committing such crimes are held responsible."

UN staff have also interviewed a girl and a boy, aged seven and nine respectively, who were allegedly abused in 2014 by soldiers from the French Sangaris force.

The girl said she had performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and a sachet of cookies, the UN said.

The new cases bring to 29 the number of cases of sexual abuse involving peacekeepers from the UN mission in CAR. Last month a hard-hitting report found the United Nations had grossly mishandled allegations of child sex abuse in CAR.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired the head of the 10,000-strong MINUSCA force last year over the mounting number of cases, but the allegations have continued to surface.