UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Britain welcomed the decision to pull hundreds of Congolese troops out of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, saying Wednesday that it sends a clear message that sexual abuse by peacekeepers will not be tolerated.
The United Nations announced last week that the troops would be repatriated and would not be replaced by another contingent from Congo. The decision came four months after three Congolese soldiers were accused of raping two women and a minor in the Central African Republic city of Bambari.
Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador, Peter Wilson, said the decision to remove the Congolese troops "is the kind of policy that we very strongly support."
"Frankly, in the context of CAR, it is a welcome shift," Wilson added, using an acronym for the Central African Republic.
A series of sexual abuse allegations have plagued the more than 10,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, which has been ripped by unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims. The mission has also been investigated over how it handled child sexual abuse allegations against French troops in 2014.
Congo's troops serve in no other U.N. peacekeeping force, and its nearly 900 troops were accepted into the force in Central African Republic at a time when few countries were volunteering troops.
The U.N. said last week that Congo was being removed from the mission because inspections showed its troops failed to meet requirements for training, equipment and preparedness.
But a U.N. peacekeeping official confirmed Wednesday that Congo's response to the allegations regarding the sexual abuse allegations was "also taken into consideration in the decision to repatriate their troops."
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the Congolese peacekeepers will remain in Central African Republic until a contingent from another country arrives to replace them. He said that country has already been chosen and but its identity will not be announced until the troops are deployed.
The official said Congolese authorities "have taken steps" to prevent sexual abuse by its troops and the U.N. "stands ready to support these efforts."
Pulling a country out of a U.N. peacekeeping mission is uncommon, though not unprecedented. Usually, it is done quietly, with the U.N. using regular rotations to replace a contingent that has not met standards with troops from a different country.
Amid the uproar in Central Africa Republic, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has vowed to step up efforts to prevent sexual abuse by peacekeepers. He has said he intends to start naming countries whose peacekeepers are accused in sexual misconduct, something the U.N. has not done in the past under pressure from member states. And last year, Ban announced his intention to repatriate the troops of countries that don't act on allegations of sexual misconduct.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this story.