United Nations peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing street children in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui and an investigation has been launched by the country that contributed the troops, a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday.
The United Nations did not identify which country the troops were from or how many soldiers may have been involved. There are 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic, where violence erupted in 2013 after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, sparking reprisal attacks from Christian militia.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. mission was made aware of the abuse allegations on June 19 and the troop contributing country was notified on June 20. He did not say how many children were alleged to have been abused.
"Medical care and assistance is now being provided to the alleged victims," Dujarric told reporters in New York. "What we know is that the crimes could go back as far as 2014 and then most recently occurred this year."
"If the allegations are substantiated this would constitute a grave violation of U.N. principles and the code of conduct for U.N. peacekeepers. The member state would be requested to take swift and appropriate punitive action," he said.
Punishment for crimes committed by U.N. peacekeepers is the responsibility of the country they come from.
Dujarric said the country that contributed the troops involved had started an investigation and was expected to report back to the United Nations "as quickly as possible."
Earlier this month the U.N. mission in Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA, said it was investigating a separate allegation that a peacekeeper had sexually abused a girl in the country's east.
The allegations against U.N. peacekeepers come after an internal U.N. report detailed accusations of sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea between December 2013 and June 2014 in Bangui.
Those soldiers were not U.N. peacekeepers as the United Nations did not take over the African Union operation until September 2014. But the United Nations has been criticized for its slow handling of those allegations.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps to head an external independent review into how the world body handled allegations of sexual abuse of children by French and African soldiers.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)