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France Investigates Claims Its Soldiers Abused Children In Africa

French President Francois Hollande says there will be grave consequences if allegations that French soldiers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic are true.

"There should be no stain on our French forces wherever they're serving," he said. "I will be implacable if any soldiers are shown to have behaved badly."

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley tells our Newscast unit that a full investigation is underway after up to 10 boys said they suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the French peacekeepers between December 2013 and June 2014 as the U.N. mission in that country was being established. Locals interviewed on French radio spoke of soldiers demanding sexual favors in exchange for food, Eleanor reports. Up to 16 soldiers may have been involved.

The French Defense Ministry said Wednesday that it had begun an investigation in late July 2014.

The abuse came to light this week after a U.N. employee leaked an internal report to French prosecutors. That employee, veteran aid worker Anders Kompass, was suspended last week for breaching protocols, The Guardian reported. He faces dismissal, the newspaper said. A U.N. official told The New York Times that Kompass had leaked the documents before the world body had a chance to address it.

The U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights commissioned the report after claims that children were being sexually abused.

This isn't the first time the U.N. has faced accusations of sexual misconduct. In the past, there were claims that its troops sexually abused locals in Burundi, Haiti and Liberia; claims of child abuse against U.N. soldiers were made in Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kosovo.

"The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations' appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn't uncommon," Paula Donovan, co-director of the advocacy group Aids Free World, told The Guardian. "The U.N.'s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks – ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble – must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access, top to bottom, and full subpoena power."

Donovan handed the internal U.N. report about the alleged child abuse in the Central African Republic to the newspaper.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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