May 8, 2015 / 9:59 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. urges probe of U.N. handling of Central Africa abuse charges

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Friday described as horrifying accusations of sexual abuse of children by French and African troops in Central African Republic, and called for a separate inquiry into how the United Nations handled the allegations.

An internal U.N. report detailed the alleged abuse by troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea between December 2013 and June 2014 at a center for displaced people at M’Poko airport in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui.

The accusations came to light in April after the U.N. report summarizing victim interviews was leaked. The six-page document said the young children who were interviewed alleged they had performed oral sex on the French troops. The soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and Chad were accused of sodomizing children.

“The allegations are completely horrific,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said. “If these allegations prove true, it is such a profound violation, not only of the dignity and physical security of individuals in their most vulnerable state, but it is a complete abrogation of trust.

“They are certainly very credible and very disturbing allegations,” she told reporters.

French prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into the claims last July, and said on Thursday they would open an investigation after written consultation with the author of the U.N. report.

A U.N. staff member has admitted leaking an unredacted report on the investigation with the victims’ names before it reached top management in the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations said that was “a serious breach of protocol” that could endanger victims.

“In terms of the U.N. and the member state’s handling of the issue, I think it is extremely important that an impartial investigation be done also of that, on top of investigating the allegations themselves,” Power said.

Power said it was “extremely important that any individual who comes into possession of allegations of this gravity acts swiftly, (but) it is also extremely important that victim and witness safety be a very significant, a primary consideration.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said there was an internal U.N. investigation of the staff member who leaked the report.

“Obviously, there will come a time, I think, when we will need to take a look at how this issue was handled,” he said.

France intervened in Central African Republic, a former French colony, some 18 months ago to help an African Union peacekeeping force try and stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels. The United Nations took over the African peacekeeping force in September.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols. Editing by Andre Grenon

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