UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. peacekeeping chief on Friday confirmed a new allegation of sexual abuse by a peacekeeper in Central African Republic, the conflict-ripped country where the United Nations is already investigating 15 other cases of possible sexual misconduct by U.N. troops and police.
Herve Ladsous, who had just returned from the impoverished nation, said he was "appalled at the conditions" for peacekeepers there.
He said the U.N. is looking into chartering planes so peacekeepers, especially from poor countries, can get some rest and recreation, noting that some South Asian nations regularly send planes to take their troops on R&R for a week or two.
Ladsous stressed, however, that living in "rudimentary" conditions for long periods of time is not an excuse for sexual misconduct.
He spoke the same day that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced several changes to address the persistent problem, including rapid-response teams to gather evidence after an allegation. The U.N. has started to repatriate military personnel on disciplinary grounds, and has adopted a new policy of suspending payments that countries receive for the troops they contribute to peacekeeping missions if their soldiers are involved in misconduct.
Central African Republic has been rocked by violence between Muslims and Christians since mostly Muslim rebels overthrew the president in 2013. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians have since fled to neighboring countries.
Since the U.N. assumed peacekeeping duties there from an African Union force in April 2014, Ladsous said there have been 63 allegations of possible misconduct, including 15 of possible sexual exploitation and abuse — 13 involving the military, one either military or police, and one by a police officer.
The U.N. peacekeeping department said the latest allegation, involving a peacekeeper and a young woman who is now pregnant, was reported to the peacekeeping force known as MINUSCA on Wednesday. It said MINUSCA "is looking into this new allegation and collecting information to confirm the age of the alleged victim as above 18."
The United Nations has a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse, and peacekeepers are banned from "fraternization" with the local population. The U.N. did not identify the nationality of the peacekeeper in this latest allegation, but a U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no announcement, said he was from Congo.
Ladsous said one government has sent home one of its nationals accused in a sexual abuse-related case.
As for suspending payments, Ladsous said he intends to expand the practice because "it really gives a bite" and will send a message to governments that U.N. rules must be obeyed.
He said countries, which were not identified, had been informed of the U.N. decision to suspend payment in nine cases. The peacekeeping department said it knew the identity of one individual and is seeking to identify the eight others.