France opens probe into alleged sexual abuse by its troops in C.Africa

france mapFrench prosecutors have opened an investigation into claims that French peacekeepers sexually abused children as young as nine in the Central African Republic, a judicial source said Wednesday.

The move followed claims reported in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that a senior UN aid worker had been suspended for leaking an internal report into abuse by French soldiers against children at a centre for internally displaced people in the capital Bangui.

The report was commissioned by the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and prepared by advocacy group Aids Free World.

“The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations’ appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn’t uncommon,” Paula Donovan, co-director of Aids Free World, told The Guardian.

“The UN’s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks –- ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble –- must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access,” she added.

The report was commissioned amid fears of sexual abuse against children last year as tens of thousands were displaced by fighting and unrest in the country.

A UN aid worker based in Geneva, Anders Kompass, leaked the report to French authorities because his bosses had failed to take action, The Guardian reported.

He has been suspended and faces dismissal for breaching protocol, the paper said.

France launched a peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic in December 2013, while the UN mission was approved the following April and became operational in September.

The sexual abuse reportedly took place during the early phase of the UN mission being set up, The Guardian said.

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