French President Francois Hollande on Thursday vowed to “show no mercy” if peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic accused of raping starving children in exchange for food were found guilty.
“If some soldiers have behaved badly, I will show no mercy,” he told reporters on a visit to the northwestern city of Brest.
The French Defence Ministry denied trying to cover up the potentially devastating scandal that has seen several of its peacekeeping troops accused of raping children in exchange for food.
“There is no desire to hide anything,” Pierre Bayle, a spokesman for the defence ministry, told reporters.
“We are not hiding the facts, we are trying to verify the facts,” he added, while urging “great caution” on accusations that have yet to be proven.
The defence ministry was made aware of the allegations in July last year when it received a leaked report compiled by UN rights officials stationed in the chaos-ridden African country, where French troops were sent in 2013 to try and restore order following a coup.
According to the report, some 10 children — the youngest just eight — alleged that French soldiers had sexually abused them in exchange for food, and in some cases under threat.
The abuse reportedly took place at a centre for displaced people near the airport of the Central African capital, Bangui, between December 2013 and June 2014.
The defence ministry said an inquiry was launched immediately after it received the reports, and police investigators had travelled to the Central African Republic on August 1 to look into the case.