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French soldiers accused of 'stomach-turning' rape of children fleeing war

Reports claim children as young as nine were raped in exchange for food.

French troops arrive at Bangui airport, in the Central African Republic, where hundreds of internally displaced people had gathered, December 2013. Source: AP/Press Association Images

FRENCH AUTHORITIES ARE investigating claims that French peacekeepers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic, with reports claiming victims as young as nine were raped in exchange for food and money.

“If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values,” the French Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The abuse was alleged by around 10 children, the ministry said, and reportedly took place at a centre for internally displaced people near the airport of the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014.

A report leaked to The Guardian said children as young as nine were involved, and that some were abused while searching desperately for food or money.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed that its investigators had conducted a probe last year, and had suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.

That UN report was ordered by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and given to the Guardian by the 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.

GUATEMALA UN KOMPASS File photo of UN whistleblower Anders Kompass. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The UN aid worker, Swedish national Anders Kompass, is based in Geneva and leaked the report to French authorities because his bosses had failed to take action.

He has been suspended and faces dismissal for breaching protocol, the Guardian reports.

France sent troops to the impoverished, landlocked nation in December 2013 as the country became engulfed in violence following a coup that March.

The UN approved its own MINUSCA mission the following April, which was fully operational by September.

Since December 2013, violence has displaced nearly 900,000 people in the Central African Republic, including more than 460,000 who have become refugees – a full 10 percent of the population.

About half of the country’s people live in severe poverty and need humanitarian aid, while 1.5 million are considered food insecure, according to the UN.

Contains reporting by AFP.

Read: Healing broken souls and bodies – how sexual violence is shattering lives in CAR>

Read: Ireland pledges €2 million in aid to Central African Republic>

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Dan MacGuill

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