Commander concerned over UN abuse rumours in DR Congo

AFP, Google News, July 24, 2009

KINSHASA — The head of UN peacekeepers in DR Congo has said he is concerned at "persistent rumours" of sexual abuse perpetrated by his troops and has sent a fact-finding mission to the east of the country, the UN mission said in a statement.

"General Babacar Gaye said he was concerned at persistent rumours of misconduct, and hoped the fact-finding team would shed light on them," the statement released in Kinshasa said.

"If they find indications of misconduct, we will refer their findings to a more formal process of investigation," said Gaye, head of the world's largest UN peacekeeping mission, known as MONUC.

In a directive to all brigade commanders on June 27, Gaye said that 10 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse had been investigated by military police in 2008, but he was concerned that other cases might have gone undetected, the statement said.

He said he was particularly concerned about possible breaches of conduct by soldiers in remote locations.

"What we are talking about here is zero tolerance for any behaviour that disrespects women and girls and the communities in which they live," explained the UN secretary-general's special envoy to DR Congo, Alan Doss.

"A very small number of peacekeepers have abused the trust of the Congolese people in the past, and the overwhelming majority who serve with honour in this mission resent the damage that a few individuals can do to the credibility of peacekeeping."

Gaye said in the statement that any evidence brought to light by the fact-finding team would be the subject of formal investigation by the UN's investigative arm, which operates outside of the MONUC chain of command.

"I have instructed my commanders to ensure our peacekeepers understand that everyone, regardless of rank, is responsible to be alert to the possibility of offences and to report transgressors," the general said.

MONUC spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Paul Dietrich told AFP there had been no specific allegations of abuse.

MONUC said the fact-finding mission will visit a number of bases as well as camps responsible for the protection of tens of thousands of Congolese displaced by violence in Nord-Kivu province.

The team is expected to report back by the end of the month.

Some 17,000 UN troops are taking part in the mission, mostly in the northeastern part of the country, where government forces have been fighting Ugandan and Rwandan rebels for several years, and some 1.8 million people have been displaced.

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