By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The latest allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation leveled against international peacekeepers in Central African Republic elicited expressions of disgust on Thursday from top United Nations officials and senior U.S. and French diplomats.
The United Nations on Wednesday said it has expanded an investigation of new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by foreign peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR) and notified authorities in France, Gabon and Burundi about the accusations against their troops.
"The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) is shocked to the core by the latest allegations of abuse in the Central African Republic," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein echoed Ban's sentiments, calling the charges "sickening" and insisting the U.N. investigation "must leave no stone unturned."
Dujarric said U.N. officials interviewed some 108 alleged victims, the "vast majority" of whom are minors. He described the allegations of sexual abuse between 2013 and 2015 as "despicable, depraved and deeply disturbing" and said the U.N. was doing what it can to investigate.
There have been dozens of such accusations against peacekeepers in CAR, where MINUSCA assumed authority from African Union troops in September 2014. France has been investigating allegations against its Sangaris force, which is not under U.N. command, since last year.
The Code Blue Campaign run by the advocacy group AIDS-Free World issued a statement on Wednesday citing information from interviews with victims conducted by MINUSCA, the U.N. mission in CAR.
Code Blue said three victims interviewed by MINUSCA reported that in 2014, "they and a fourth girl were tied up and undressed inside a camp by a military commander from the Sangaris force and forced to have sex with a dog."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, currently in CAR, issued a statement describing the allegations as "sickening."
"This plague of sexual abuse by peacekeepers must stop," she said.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the allegations are "sickening and odious."
"The French authorities are determined to shed full light on these grave allegations," he said.
The U.N. has pledged to crack down on sex abuse allegations to avoid a repeat of past mistakes. MINUSCA's previous head, Babacar Gaye, resigned last August and some 800 Congolese peacekeepers were repatriated last month.
In December, an independent review panel accused the U.N. and its agencies of grossly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse and rape by peacekeepers in CAR in 2013 and 2014.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Chris Reese)