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UN widens probe of fresh Central Africa sex abuse allegations

The world body has received new allegations against peacekeepers from Morocco and Burundi in CAR.

The United Nations (UN) headquarters stands above the neighbourhood on the east side of Manhattan in September 2015 in New York City. Picture: AFP.

NEW YORK - The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday said it has widened an investigation of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by foreign peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR) and notified authorities in France, Gabon and Burundi about the charges.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday the world body had received new sexual abuse allegations against UN peacekeepers from Morocco and Burundi in CAR, including one that involved a 14-year-old girl.

The UN press office released new information about the probe late on Wednesday, saying that a UN team led by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, known as MINUSCA, had travelled to the Kemo prefecture to investigate.

"The exact number and nature of these extremely troubling allegations are still being determined," the UN statement said. "The team has identified the contingents in question as those provided by Burundi and Gabon."

"Allegations made against the French Sangaris forces in the same area are also being investigated," the statement added. "Alleged victims are being interviewed and will be provided with assistance and psycho-social and medical support."

The UN statement said a senior UN official met with Burundi's Ambassador Albert Shingiro and will meet soon with representatives of Gabon.

"Allegations are allegations," Shingiro told Reuters. "We have to wait for investigation by a national team from next week. Our national policy on sexual abuse is zero tolerance."

The UN statement added that the Burundian and Gabonese units accused of involvement in the abuse would remain confined to their camps for the time being. The statement said authorities in France and Gabon have been notified.

The French and Gabonese missions were not immediately available for comment.

There have been dozens of such accusations against peacekeepers in CAR, where MINUSCA assumed authority from African Union troops in September 2014. France has been investigating allegations against its Sangaris force, which is not under UN command, since last year.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Code Blue Campaign run by the advocacy group AIDS-Free World issued a statement saying that the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) recently interviewed 98 girls who alleged that they had been sexually abused by international peacekeepers.

Code Blue said in its statement that three victims interviewed by MINUSCA reported that in 2014, "they and a fourth girl were tied up and undressed inside a camp by a military commander from the Sangaris force and forced to have sex with a dog."

Reuters could not independently confirm the allegations raised by Code Blue.

The UN has pledged to crack down on sex abuse allegations to avoid a repeat of past mistakes. MINUSCA's previous head, Babacar Gaye, resigned last August and some 800 Congolese peacekeepers were repatriated last month.

In December, an independent review panel accused the UN and its agencies of grossly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse and rape by international peacekeepers in CAR in 2013 and 2014.

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