Sun, Nov 04, 2007 - Page 7 News List

UN troops accused of sex crimes sent home to Sri Lanka

REUTERS , COLOMBO

More than 100 Sri Lankan UN peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in Haiti could face hard labor if found guilty, the military said yesterday, but said an inquiry was needed first.

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said on Friday 108 of Sri Lanka's 950 soldiers in Haiti were being sent home on disciplinary grounds over allegations of "transactional sex."

She said there were also allegations involving underage girls.

"Definitely, if they are proved guilty the maximum punishment will be given according to the Sri Lankan law and military law," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Under Sri Lankan law, hard labor is the maximum punishment for such offenses, but it was not immediately clear what the maximum sentence was.

Sri Lanka's government has been criticized for sheltering troops fighting a civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels at home against accusations of human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.

The UN's Montas said it was now up to Sri Lanka to deal with the abuse allegations of the peacekeepers.

"They are back under national jurisdiction. So far, Sri Lanka has said ... that they are going to be prosecuted in Sri Lanka," she said.

Over the last few years, as peacekeeping missions have expanded, reports of abuse have spread in various African nations, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite the UN's declared "zero-tolerance" policy.

The UN largely ignored sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and other field staff for decades, launching a public crackdown only in recent years after reports of abuse surfaced in the Congo.

A 2005 UN report said soldiers should be punished for any sexual abuse, their pay docked and a fund set up to assist any women and girls they impregnated. But member nations have not agreed.

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