MONTEVIDEO — Four Uruguayan United Nations peacekeepers accused of sexually assaulting a young man in Haiti have been charged with "coercion" but not sexual misconduct, an official told AFP.
"The evidence on record does not support findings of sexual assault. The indictment concerns only the crime of coercion," said the prosecutor in the case, Enrique Rodriguez.
The Latin American nation's penal code states that coercion -- a crime punishable by three months to three years in prison -- involves the use of physical or psychological restraint to force someone to take or abstain from an action against their will.
"In this case, force was used to oblige another person to tolerate an action against their will," Rodriguez said, noting that the judge has not yet ruled in the case.
The scandal erupted in September 2011 after cell phone video images circulated on the Internet purportedly showing the UN peacekeepers sexually assaulting the man, then 18, in the southern Haitian town of Port-Salut.
The alleged victim, Jhony Jean, was questioned in Montevideo in May by Judge Alejandro Guido, responsible for a civil investigation launched in September 2011 at the request of the Uruguayan defense ministry.
After their return to Uruguay, the four accused soldiers and two of their colleagues were charged in a military court with disobedience and failing to fulfill the terms of duty.
The first charge is punishable by four months to four years in prison, and the second can lead to up to three years imprisonment.
The case prompted protests outside the Uruguayan base at Port-Salut to demand the withdrawal of the UN forces.
Deployed since June 2004 under Brazilian leadership, the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti includes troops from 18 countries, but most are from Latin America.
After the January 2010 earthquake, the force grew from some 9,000 troops to 12,250 but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the time has come to begin a gradual drawdown.
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