French President Francois Hollande is promising tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting children in Central African Republic.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in western France, Hollande said any sanctions should correspond to the gravity of the crime and “set an example.”
Authorities in France are investigating allegations that French soldiers sexually abused a number of children during a C.A.R. peacekeeping mission.
The French government “was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers,” the defense ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
The activist group AIDS-Free World said about 16 French soldiers were accused of abusing 10 boys, between 8 and 15 years old. The alleged abuse reportedly took place at a center for displaced people near the airport in the capital, Bangui, between December 2013 and June 2014.
If the accusations prove true true, the defense ministry said, “the strongest penalties” will be imposed on those found responsible.
The allegations raise questions about the French military presence in several of the country’s former colonies in Africa. French troops are helping to fight Boko Haram along the Nigerian border. They also are maintaining the peace in Ivory Coast and guarding cities from al-Qaida rebels in Mali.
The Central African Republic has been torn by sectarian conflict since 2012, when a long-simmering revolt by Muslims living in the northeast of the country toppled a sitting government.