A French judicial source on Thursday in Paris confirmed that some of the French soldiers alleged to have sexually abused children in Central African Republic while on peacekeeping duties have been identified.
The source said the matter came to light earlier in the week, when Britain’s Guardian newspaper said it had acquired UN report that raised allegations of the rape of young boys by French troops.
The report said 14 soldiers were involved in the alleged abuse, which took place between December 2013 and June 2014.
The judicial source said soldiers of other nationalities were also implicated by the report, as subsequent French inquiries had identified some of them.
He said the case risked damaging the reputation of France’s military operations in Africa.
President Francois Hollande has been a strong advocate of using French military muscle to help secure peace in former colonies such as Central African Republic or Mali.
Mr. Hollande said anyone found guilty would face the wrath of the law.
“If this information is confirmed, the punishment will be proportionate to the deeds as the punishment will be harsh,” he said.
France intervened in Central African Republic, a former French colony, some 18 months ago to stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who had seized power.
It started withdrawing some of its 2,000 troops this year, handing over to UN peacekeepers.
France’s Defence Ministry confirmed that the alleged abuse took place at a centre for displaced people at M’Poko Airport in the capital Bangui.
It said that it would take “all necessary measures” to establish the truth.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon confirmed on Wednesday that the UN office for human rights in Bangui had conducted an investigation in late spring of 2014.
He said that a UN staff member admitted leaking an unaccredited report on the investigation before it reached top management in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“This constitutes a serious breach of protocol, which, as is well known to all OHCHR officials, requires redaction of any information that could endanger victims, witnesses and investigators,” the spokesperson said.