Brazzaville - Republic of Congo's government said Friday it had launched an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse involving peacekeepers serving with the UN in troubled Central African Republic.
"Under a memorandum of understanding between the Congolese government and the office of the UN secretary general it has been decided that an administrative inquiry will be carried out," Communications Minister Thierry Moungalla said.
The investigation, which would be led by the defence ministry, would attempt to "verify the veracity of the allegations" revealed by the UN's 10,000-strong stabilization mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA, on Thursday.
CAR is struggling to recover from a cycle of sectarian violence that exploded after a 2013 coup, pitting mainly Muslim rebels against Christian militias, but international peacekeeping efforts have been undermined by the string of sex abuse claims.
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MINUSCA said Thursday it had "identified seven new possible victims of sexual exploitation and abuse in Bambari", in the centre of the country, involving soldiers from the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A UN probe "found sufficient initial evidence that five of the victims were minors and had been sexually abused and that one adult had been sexually exploited", the MINUSCA statement said.
Following on the claims, the United Nations said it would repatriate 120 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo after last month asking DR Congo to send home its contingent.
Moungalla said Brazzaville had a "zero tolerance" policy on rights abuses and would "roundly condemn" the abuse if proven by the investigation.
The allegations are the latest in a barrage of claims of troops assaulting civilians they are supposed to protect in CAR.
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While most of the cases concern UN peacekeepers, France's Sangaris force and the EU's EUFOR mission have also been targeted by similar complaints.
Among other claims, two teenagers said they were raped by EUFOR soldiers whom they believed to be from Georgia and a seven-year-old girl said she performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and cookies.
Last month, a hard-hitting report found the United Nations had grossly mishandled allegations of child sex abuse in CAR.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired the head of the force last year, but the claims continue to surface.