(AFP) – May 14, 2008
KINSHASA (AFP) — The UN is investigating allegations that its peacekeepers sexually abused children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, its mission in the war-scarred country said on Wednesday.
The mission (MONUC) "is deeply concerned by allegations that surfaced recently of sexual exploitation and abuse against some of its Blue Helmets, in the province of North Kivu," its spokesman Kemal Saiki told reporters here.
"These allegations are being thoroughly investigated by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS)," he added.
He gave no further details but UN and local sources told AFP the investigation focused on an alleged child prostitution ring in Masisi, northwest of the eastern province's capital, Goma.
The sources said Indian MONUC peacekeepers in Masisi were accused of paying for sex with young Congolese girls near the force's camp between mid-2007 and early 2008. The OIOS opened its inquiry in March.
The vast central African country is recovering from a devastating 1998-2003 civil war. Millions of people are believed to have died from the combined effects of the conflict.
MONUC is the biggest peacekeeping mission in the world, with some 19,000 personnel including 17,000 blue-helmeted troops.
Since its first deployment in 2001, its civilian and military personnel have been involved in several sexual abuse and smuggling scandals.
The United Nations in 2005 stated a "zero tolerance" approach to its troops having sex with the Congolese. MONUC logged 140 cases of alleged sexual abuse or prostitution involving its personnel from December 2004 to August 2006.
A separate probe has been opened into charges by the wife of a former combatant that a MONUC peacekeeper tried to rape her last month in a camp for demobilised fighters.
In May 2008 Human Rights Watch accused the UN of covering up allegations of embezzlement against Pakistani and Indian MONUC troops implicated in alleged arms and gold smuggling in the country. The UN denied the charge.
"The acts of a few troops tarnish the work of the whole mission," a MONUC official, who asked not to be named, told AFP. He said the UN should make the countries contributing the troops punish those responsible.
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