The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo said on Wednesday that new allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced against its soldiers in the country’s restive east.
Congo’s 18,000-member UN peacekeeping force has been wracked by a series of abuse and corruption scandals, including peacekeepers trading food for sex with underage girls.
Spokesman Kemal Saiki said the new accusations were against peacekeepers stationed in North Kivu Province and included allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.
He said the allegations had surfaced recently but declined to give further details while the UN investigation was continuing.
He would not say who brought the claims forward or whether they might result in criminal charges.
Aid workers, who asked not to be identified, said the inquiry was focusing on Indian UN peacekeepers accused of paying for sex with underage girls.
“There are allegations and independent services are working on them,” Saiki said.
The allegations have surfaced at a time when the UN mission is under heavy scrutiny after a recent report by Human Rights Watch accused it of covering up allegations of Pakistani and Indian peacekeepers’ involvement in alleged arms and gold smuggling.
The UN has consistently said inquiries have failed to turn up evidence of widespread abuse, although they have found evidence of less serious misdemeanours by individuals which has been turned over to Indian and Pakistani authorities.
More than 100 UN peacekeepers and personnel have been killed attempting to bring peace to the vast, mineral-rich central African nation.
Experts estimate Congo’s 1998-2003 war and the humanitarian catastrophe it spawned have killed 5.4 million people, mostly from hunger and disease linked to the violence. That would make it the deadliest conflict since World II.
The UN’s mission in Congo said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned” by the new accusations and that they are being thoroughly investigated by its internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services.
Congo emerged in late 2002 from back-to-back wars that split the nation into rival fiefdoms controlled by different factions.
Despite a peace deal and a government of national unity, fighting has broken out sporadically in the east.
Though beset by scandal, the UN force was also key to organizing and policing Congo’s first free elections in decades in 2006.