A United Nations spokesman in Ivory Coast said Friday that the U.N. is looking into recent allegations that its peacekeeping soldiers are having sex with minors in the west of the country.
U.N. mission spokesman Hamadoun Toure said the world body was very concerned about the allegations.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy. We are here to protect the population, not engage in such things," he said.
The mission released an official statement Thursday night that said it is taking "preventative action" and has "stepped up" a campaign with the soldiers to deal with what appears to be an ongoing problem. He said U.N. officials have traveled to the west on a "fact-finding mission."
After receiving the reports two weeks ago, the Ivory Coast mission informed U.N. Headquarters, the Ivorian government and the home countries of the accused soldiers, according to the statement. The U.N. declined to mention the soldiers' countries, citing confidentiality.
Toure said any guilty soldiers would face repatriation and punishment from the judicial system in their own countries.
"If these allegations are founded, it would be the responsibility of the countries from which these peacekeepers come to take appropriate action against those involved," the U.N. said in its statement.
Aid group Save the Children and the U.N. Children's Fund are helping with the assessment, according to the official statement.
A spokesman for Save the Children U.K. says the allegations were first reported to their regional office.
A United States Embassy cable from January 2010 and recently released by WikiLeaks revealed that Beninese peacekeepers in Ivory Coast enticed underage girls in a poor part of the West African nation to exchange sex for food as recently as December 2009.
The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast was established to facilitate the peace process in the country, which became split into a rebel-controlled north and government-controlled south after an attempted coup sparked a civil war in 2002. In July the Security Council extended the mission's mandate for another year so that it can continue to assist with critical tasks after a recent post-electoral crisis.
United Nations spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said that 42 allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. staff in Ivory Coast have been reported since 2007. Sixteen involved minors.