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General News of Friday, 1 December 2006

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Peacekeeper accused of sex abuse

UNITED NATIONS - One Ghanaian peacekeeper is among 180 soldiers, civilians and police in UN peacekeeping missions that have been targeted for disciplinary action since the beginning of 2004 for sexual abuse and exploitation and the problem persists, a UN spokesman said Thursday.

Despite the UN's "zero tolerance," Stephane Dujarric said, "acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel continue to occur."

"Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel is unacceptable," he said.

"Over the past two years, it's been clear that we have redoubled our prevent these acts from happening, to discipline those who are responsible and to bring assistance to the victims. But we obviously have a ways to go."

Since January 2004, Dujarric said, the UN has investigated 319 peacekeeping personnel in all UN missions.

"These resulted in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation on disciplinary grounds of 17 police and 144 military personnel," he said.

Dujarric explained about 80 per cent of some 100,000 people who serve in peacekeeping operations cannot be disciplined by the UN system.

"They belong to the various troop-contributing countries and we rely on those countries to discipline their personnel," he said.

"We obviously are working very hard with the troop-contributing countries to try to make sure that there is follow-up, that people who are sent home are disciplined."

The UN Peacekeeping Department's conduct and discipline team reported since it was established in November 2005, its list of peacekeepers repatriated on disciplinary grounds for sexual exploitation and abuse includes 12 peacekeepers from Nepal, seven from Uruguay, four from Nigeria, four from Senegal, two from Benin, two from Ethiopia, two from Togo and one each from France, Ghana, India, Niger and South Africa.

Dujarric was responding to a BBC investigation that said children have been subjected to rape and prostitution by UN peacekeepers in Haiti and Liberia. The BBC said girls told of regular encounters with soldiers where sex was demanded in return for food or money.

He said the specific case mentioned in Haiti took place in November 2004 and the allegations were not upheld by two UN investigations. The incident in Liberia was reported to have taken place Nov. 15 but he said the UN Mission in Liberia had received no report in the last two months of any cases involving minors.

Nonetheless, Dujarric said, the problem does persist and "one case is one case too many."

The UN peacekeeping department instituted the new policy last year following an investigation that found peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.
Cases of sexual abuse have also been reported in other peacekeeping missions from Bosnia and Kosovo to Cambodia, East Timor and West Africa.