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Rape charges hang over U.N. peacekeepers in Africa

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Sunday, February 14th, 2016
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UN Peace keepers

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Sitting under a mango tree on the outskirts of this capital city, Abdou Mbone, 58, says U.N. peacekeeping troops raped his wife, Halima, before leaving her dead body in the street a year ago.

Mbone’s wife had gone to purchase food for dinner before realizing that Christian militias were in the neighborhood fighting Islamic rebels. She hurried to a nearby market to find the peacekeepers who often stood guard there.

“She tried to seek help from soldiers so that she could be escorted to our house,” the father of three said, nearly collapsing from grief. “But they instead raped her.”

Mbone’s allegations can’t be independently confirmed, but he said other residents “will tell you stories how their wives and children were either killed or raped by the same soldiers.”

Fresh details of rape and other sexual abuses by peacekeeping forces here continue to surface a year later, amid complaints that not enough has been done to uncover and stop such actions.

Human Rights Watch released a report Feb.4 alleging that U.N. peacekeepers had raped at least eight girls and women last year, including a 14-year-old girl, in Bambari, a town about 230 miles northeast of here.

“The men were dressed in their military uniforms and had their guns,” the 14-year-old said, according to the Human Rights Watch report. “I walked by and suddenly one of them grabbed me by my arms and the other one ripped off my clothes. They pulled me into the tall grass and one held my arms while the other one pinned down my legs and raped me.”

The United Nations said it is investigating the Human Rights Watch claims and has confined soldiers from the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo who allegedly participated in the assaults to their barracks until they are sent home.

The allegations are similar to those leveled in January by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying French and European Union troops stationed here abused children, including a 7-year-old who performed sexual acts in exchange for water and cookies.

Other allegations surfaced in April 2015 about child abuse here by peacekeepers dating back to 2014. And an independent U.N. panel faulted local peacekeeping officers in December for failing to aggressively investigate such allegations.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon named American Jane Holl Lute, a former U.N. undersecretary, to coordinate efforts to prevent future sexual abuse by peacekeepers.

A peacekeeping force has been in the Central African Republic since 2014 when the United Nations sent in 10,000 troops, police and civilians to quell violence that exploded after a 2013 coup pitted Muslim rebels against Christian militias.

Bangui residents were not surprised by the allegations of sexual abuse.

Antoinette Adele, 33, sought refuge in Bangui with her two children after her husband was killed by militiamen in 2014. On the way, she encountered peacekeepers she says were from France.

“They told me that it was risky to walk alone to the city, and I should stay until morning before they escort me to the refugee camp,” she said, breaking down in tears. “I thought they were there to help me, but they wanted to rape me.”

She said three soldiers told her the children had to sleep separately and took them away.

“I was left with one soldier who told me to remove my clothes. He told me I risked death if I resisted. … I removed my clothes and he raped me several times while I was crying,” she recalled.

The next day, Adele and her children, plus 20 other women, were taken to a refugee camp in an army truck, she said. She remains there today. She didn’t tell authorities what happened.

“There were no police to go to, ” she explained. “There was no government to help.”

The sexual assault scandal is one reason France decided this year to pull 600 of its current 900 peacekeeping troops from this country. France has deployed as many as 2,500 troops here. The French Defense Ministry said it is investigating the child abuse accusations.

As the investigations continue, Mbone said he still seeks justice for his wife’s assault.

“I thought these soldiers were sent to protect us from the militias, but they had their own intention: to rape and kill,” he said. “They continue to repeat the same act despite the outcry.”

Onyulo reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

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