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New allegations of gang rape against UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic

The UN says Congolese soldiers are the latest peacekeepers to be implicated in rape cases in Central African Republic. Last week allegations emerged against French and Georgian soldiers stationed in CAR.

More than 100 UN peacekeeping troops in Central African Republic (CAR) will be going home early after a new round sexual abuse allegations rocked the UN agency.

A human rights group charged that peacekeepers raped or otherwise sexually exploited eight women and girls during a three-month period starting in mid-September of last year.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old accused peacekeepers of gang-raping them near the Bambari airport, CAR's second largest city.

Subsequently,

the local UN mission identified seven more rape cases

, brought to its attention by HRW.

As part of its new policy to identify the nationalities of soldiers accused of rape, the UN said the men involved were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, makes a point during a press conference.

UN High Commissioner for HR Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

According to the UN, 120 soldiers from the Republic of Congo were deployed at the airport from September 17 to December 14. There are conflicting reports as to whether the soldiers will be confined to barracks or returned home while an investigation is carried out.

A fact-finding team found "sufficient initial evidence" that

five alleged victims were minors and had been sexually abused

, and that one adult had been sexually exploited. Another alleged victim could not be interviewed, though it was not clear why.

Outrage and shame

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the UN envoy to the Central African Republic, traveled to Bambari on Thursday and

expressed outrage and shame at the latest allegations.

The latest allegations come less than a week after French and Georgian soldiers were also accused of rape in the CAR.

The victims' accounts, as given to HRW, make for grim reading.

HRW quoted a 14-year-old saying that in November, two armed peacekeepers attacked her as she walked by the base at the airport.

"Suddenly one of them grabbed me by my arms and the other one ripped off my clothes," she was quoted as saying. "They pulled me into the tall grass and one held my arms while the other one pinned down my legs and raped me. The soldier holding my arms tried to hold my mouth, but I was still able to scream. Because of that they had to run away before the second soldier could rape me."

An 18-year-old told HRW that when she visited the Republic of Congo troops' base near the airport seeking food or money,

armed peacekeepers forced her into the bush and gang-raped her.

"There were three of them on me. They were armed," she said. "They said if I resisted they would kill me. They took me one by one."

bik/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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