eurofor.jpg
Photograph: European External Action Service

Soldiers from an EU-led stabilization force in the Central African Republic are alleged to have sexually abused girls, UN officials said Friday, the latest in a string of similar cases in the country.

Previous allegations had been made against French and UN peacekeepers deployed to bring stability to CAR.

The UN human rights office in Geneva said that two girls told a UN team that they were raped by soldiers of the European Forces Republic of Central Africa (EUFOR) mission, while two others said they were paid to have sex with soldiers from the mission that ended last year.

Three of the four alleged victims named Georgian EUFOR members as the perpetrators.

The girls were between 14 and 16 when the alleged crimes took place in 2014.

In addition, a boy and a girl told UN human rights officers they were each sexually abused in the same year by several French soldiers that were part of France's Sangaris peace operations in CAR.

"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 human rights office reported.

The girl was 7 years old at the time, while the boy was 9.

"As more and more cases emerge, implicating more and more national contingents, it is also clear that all foreign military forces, whether UN or non-UN, must employ much stronger and more effective actions to prevent further abuse and exploitation, and not just in CAR," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has raised the new allegations with European, Georgian and French authorities, which said they had launched investigations or legal proceedings, according to Zeid's office.

A fourth country had also been contacted because of a similar allegation, but further corroboration was still needed in this case, the UN rights office said without naming the country.

"The EU takes these allegations very seriously," an EU foreign policy spokesperson said in a statement, adding: "The EU follows a zero-tolerance policy as regards sexual misconduct or criminal activities."

Fewer than 10 members of the EU-led force - which at the time numbered 750-800 personnel - were implicated in the allegations, an EU source said on condition of anonymity, while defending Georgia's overall contribution to the mission.

"They had a very difficult task to fulfil and even given these ... extremely regrettable allegations at this stage, I can say that they conducted their task in a very professional manner in difficult situations," the source added.

The EU has sent an expert to the UN human rights office and is reviewing any information that could prove relevant, its statement said.

The states that contributed the troops in question would be responsible for any investigation and disciplinary or criminal action, it added.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian alerted the judicial authorities on January 19, after receiving a documentation from the UN high commissioner for human rights, according to sources close to the minister.

The turmoil in CAR, which has killed thousands of people and displaced about 1 million, began in March 2013 after Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew president Francois Bozize, a Christian.

All of the new cases took place in or near the M’Poko camp for displaced people in the capital Bangui, according to the UN findings.

A panel set up by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon concluded in December that the UN had failed to respond adequately to sexual abuse allegations against foreign soldiers in CAR in the past.

Earlier in January, the United Nations cited lack of discipline and preparedness when it asked Congo to repatriate its 925 peacekeepers from CAR, following allegations that some members of the contingent had sexually abused local women.

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