The United Nations intends to send a team of investigators to the Ivory Coast next week to investigate sexual abuse, with a senior UN official pledging to enforce a "zero tolerance" policy worldwide.
A contingent of 734 peacekeepers from Morocco has been confined to barracks in the Ivory Coast, except for essential daytime duties, on allegations of sexually exploiting under-age girls, some as young as 13 years old, UN officials said.
A team from New York composed of a unit from the peacekeeping department and the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN watchdog, go to the Ivory Coast on July 31 along with Moroccan officials. Previous probes had been done by the UN officials based in the West African nation.
UN Assistant Secretary-General Jane Hull Lute, a former career US Army officer and lawyer, told a news conference on Wednesday, "We are not turning a blind eye to any activity anywhere."
"When investigations are conducted and it's demonstrated that the allegations are founded, we will take action," she said, adding that another meeting was planned with troop contributing nations so they would understand "that zero tolerance means zero complacency."
"It is my experience both as a soldier and as a mother and as a peacekeeper that standards need to be reinforced again and again and again," said Lute, a UN peacekeeping official and veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.
The United Nations can investigate abuses and repatriate suspected perpetrators. But they can only be punished by their home countries.
In the Ivory Coast, the current Moroccan contingent had only been in the northern town of Bouake, a rebel stronghold, for a few months. UN officials said the abuse had also been conducted by previous contingents.
Bouake residents told Reuters sexual relations between peacekeepers and local women and girls were commonplace.
"These are very poor young village girls," said Youssouf Oomar, head of UN children's agency UNICEF in Ivory Coast. "When they are in poverty they get poorer and get caught up in what could be called survival sex."
With a small allowance of $39 per month and salaries paid in their home country, some said Moroccans sold UN rations of tinned or dried food to pay for sex.
The peacekeepers, backed by troops from former colonial power France, are in Ivory Coast to help quell violence after a civil war in 2002. Many troops patrol a buffer zone that divides the country into a rebel-held north and government-ruled south.
The Ivory Coast UN mission numbers just over 9,000 uniformed personnel from more than 40 countries.
UN figures released on Wednesday show 17 military personnel, other than the Moroccans, have been repatriated or dismissed for sexual exploitation or abuse in the Ivory Coast since 2005 and one man repatriated for other offences.
In all UN missions, which encompass some 100,000 peacekeepers 197 people have been repatriated, dismissed or otherwise removed from the field on grounds of sexual abuse. Another 34 have been accused of other serious offences.
Of this group of 231 personnel, 182 were military, 22 were international police and 27 were civilians.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Temmuz 2007, 13:29