BANGUI (Reuters) - The U.N. peacekeeping mission for Central African Republic said on Thursday it has identified seven new cases of sexual abuse by its troops including women and girls Human Rights Watch (HRW) says were raped or gang raped.
The latest cases, which involved at least five children, come on top of more than 20 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers in the country last year.
Troops from France and Georgia involved in restoring order to the turbulent former French colony since a 2013 spike in inter-communal violence are also accused of sexually abusing children.
“(I) will not rest until these heinous acts are uncovered, perpetrators are punished, and incidents cease,” said MINUSCA head Parfait Onanga-Anyanga during a visit to Bambari in the country’s centre, where the latest alleged abuses took place.
The mission’s previous head, Babacar Gaye, resigned amid sexual abuse allegations by peacekeepers last August.
Human Rights Watch accuses soldiers from Congo Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo of raping or sexually exploiting eight women and girls between October and December 2015 near Bambari airport.
The victims were among the nearly 1 million Central African Republicans displaced during three years of violence between Christian and Muslim militias and were at the time living in a nearby temporary camp, HRW added.
A 14-year-old girl said that last November two armed peacekeepers dragged her into a patch of tall grass where one restrained her arms as the other raped her.
A woman said that three soldiers at the Republic of Congo base gang raped her when she visited in search of food or money.
“They were armed. They said if I resisted they would kill me. They took me one by one,” she told Human Rights Watch.
MINUSCA, which has conducted its own initial probe into the incidents, said it has confined 120 soldiers from the Republic of Congo to barracks and will repatriate them once an investigation is complete.
It was not immediately clear if they would be replaced.
Plans are already underway for the withdrawal of Democratic Republic of Congo’s peacekeeping contingent from the 11,000-strong force after they failed an internal assessment.
Spokesmen for the country’s army and government were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
Troops from Congo Republic have in the past been accused of involvement in up to 18 alleged enforced disappearances in the country and have not yet been sanctioned.
Congo Republic, whose President Denis Sassou Nguesso has acted as a mediator in the Central African conflict, issued a statement on Thursday saying the government would launch an investigation into the new rape allegations.
Under the current system, the U.N. can investigate crimes and send peacekeepers home but has no power to prosecute individuals.
Anneke Van Woudenberg, HRW’s Deputy Africa Director, told Reuters fundamental changes to agreements with troop-contributing countries were necessary to improve accountability.
“The U.N. should be able to step in. Peacekeepers are getting away with rape and killings,” she said.
Additional reporting by Christian Brice Elion in Brazzaville and Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Dominic Evans