French deployed more than 2,500 troops to the Central African Republic in 2013, as thousands of civilians were killed in ethnic violence between Christians and Muslims
Paris (AFP) - French prosecutors have opened a third investigation into fresh allegations of sexual abuse by troops in France's Sangaris peace force based in the Central African Republic.
The prosecutors' office said the probe was opened after the United Nations passed on allegations to the defence ministry of sexual abuse involving French troops in the eastern town of Dekoa between 2013 and 2015, a judicial source told AFP.
There were no details on the number of alleged victims, their ages, or the number of soldiers involved, the source said.
The investigation was opened on Friday, a day after the UN said 108 more victims had come forward with horrifying new accounts of sexual abus, including bestiality, by UN peacekeepers and French troops based in the war-torn country.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "shocked to the core" over the allegations that emerged after a UN team traveled to south-central Kemo prefecture to interview the women and girls.
The investigators said "the vast majority" were under-age girls, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said last week.
And AIDS-Free World, a civil society group that tracks peacekeeper sex abuse cases, said three girls told a UN rights officer that in 2014 they were tied up and undressed by a French commander inside a camp and forced to have sex with a dog.
The girls were then allegedly given about $9 in payment.
France's defense ministry says French soldiers, if convicted, would face strict military discipline in addition to any criminal penalties that may be brought.
France sent an intervention force dubbed "Sangaris" to the Central African Republic in December 2013 to help control sectarian unrest.
They were not part of the UN mission, known as MINUSCA, but have been mandated by the Security Council to help restore peace to the country.
- Possible DNA testing -
The UN mission took over from an African Union force in September 2014 as the CAR was still reeling from a wave of bloodshed.
The latest probe involving Sangaris soldiers is the third to date.
French prosecutors investigating rape claims by Central African minors have so far interrogated five soldiers but laid no charges.
The soldiers have said they gave away food but asked for nothing in exchange and have denied charges of abuse, a source close to the probe said.
Besides French troops, allegations have been levelled against the Burundi and Gabon contingents of the UN mission.
Dujarric said the UN would carry out joint investigations with Burundi and Gabon of incidents that allegedly took place between 2013 and 2015.
Herve Ladsous, the UN under-secretary for peacekeeping operations, said his organization was discussing the possibility of implementing courts-martial and DNA testing in countries where abuse occurs.
"This would show victims we are dealing with their plight," Ladsous said during a visit to Bangui, the Central African capital.
He also suggested taking DNA samples of troops about to deploy on peace missions "to facilitate paternity tests" in case of claims.
MINUSCA counts about 12,600 foreign police and soldiers, as well as more than 500 foreign civilians.
As disturbing allegations of sexual assault by troops targeting civilians mounted, Ban in August fired the mission chief, but new claims have continued to emerge.
Last week, the UN reported two new cases of sexual abuse by Burundian and Moroccan troops, including one that involved a 14-year-old girl.
In a bid to prevent new abuses, peacekeepers are now confined to their barracks when not working.