The Republic of Congo has launched an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse involving its troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR).
"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 on Friday.
The defence ministry will lead the investigation and "verify the veracity of the allegations", after Human Rights Watch (HRW) brought the cases to the attention of MINUSCA, the UN's stabilisation mission in CAR.
MINUSCA said 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 (DRC).
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", MINUSCA said in a statement.
Following the claims, the UN said it would repatriate 120 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo, a month after asking DRC to send home its contingent.
On Thursday, HRW released a statement documenting eight new allegations of rape or sexual exploitation by UN troops in the same region of Bambari.
All eight survivors said that they believed the peacekeepers responsible were from the Republic of Congo or the DRC, according to HRW, which alleged the abuse took place between October and December 2015.
MINUSCA said one of the allegations passed on by HRW had been previously reported and is currently under investigation.
"Among the survivors are a 14-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman who said peacekeepers gang-raped them near Bambari airport in the center of the country," HRW said.
CAR is struggling to recover from a cycle of violence that began after a 2013 coup, pitting mainly Muslim rebels against Christian militias, but international peacekeeping efforts have been undermined by a string of sex abuse claims.
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.
While most of the cases concern UN peacekeepers, France's Sangaris force and the EU's EUFOR mission have also been accused of similar crimes.
Source: Al Jazeera And AFP